Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ever thought of what you are missing in life?

On a cold January morning a musician started to play the violin at a Metro station in Washington, DC.

He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes while thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by before a middle aged man noticed the musician and stopped for a few seconds – only to hurry on to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first tip: A woman, while continuing to walk, threw a dollar in the till.

The one who paid the most attention was a three year old boy. His mother tagged him along but the kid kept on pulling back to listen to the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the boy was forced away, but he kept on looking over his shoulder all the time. This reaction was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only six people stopped to listen for a while. About twenty gave him money without interrupting their normal pace. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. He collected 32 dollars.

No one recognised Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before playing in the subway, Bell sold out at a theatre in Boston where the seats averaged a hundred dollars.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito at the Metro station was organised by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perceptions, taste and priorities.

The outline was: In a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour:

Do we perceive beauty?
Do we stop to appreciate it?
Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experiment could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written on one of the best instruments ever made, how many other things are we missing?

(With thanks to the Washington Post, 7 April 2007, “Pearls before breakfast” by Gene Weingarten)

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