Monday, January 12, 2009

Things Are Not Always What They Seem

This is a wonderful story. Thank you Martha for forwarding it to me. I once heard this "Violinist in the Metro" play in Santa Fe at the Santa Fe Opera. As he played a Camille Saint-Saëns piece a pair of finches fluttered high above the orchestra in the rafters. The male finch broke into song and accompanied the violinist for several minutes. It was one of the sweetest melodies I've ever heard.

Stradavarius violin from Wikipedia, here.

A Violinist in the Metro
A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle-aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3-year-old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was 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 his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience 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, how many other things are we missing?

You can see the YouTube video here.


  1. Beautiful and sad story--I can't wait to watch the video, and to dig in more to your tantalizing blog. So glad to have found you, and especially glad you liked the portrait of your name twin, Elsa-I like her an awful lot, too! :-)

  2. How fabulous to have you visit the Bird's Eye View, Paige. I was guided to your site by the Internet Sherpa and so glad I was. It's yumtious (yummy + scrumptious). I look forward to perusing it often :)