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Sunday June 23, 2013

Mystery Metro violinist

Ignored: He played his
heart out in the Metro,
but world-famous
violinist, Joshua Bell,
was ignored by
passersby. Ignored: He played his heart out in the Metro, but world-famous violinist, Joshua Bell, was ignored by passersby.

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 three-year-old boy. His mother tugged him along hurriedly, 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 six people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected US$32 (RM96). 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 US$3.5mil (RM10.5mil).

Two days before his playing in the subway, Bell sold out at a theatre in Boston and the seats averaged US$100 (RM300).

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the Metro station was organised 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 recognise 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?

Analysis: true. For 45 minutes on the morning of January 12, 2007, concert violinist Bell stood incognito on a Washington DC, subway platform and performed classical music for passersby. Video and audio of the performance are available on the Washington Post website.

“No one knew it,” explained Washington Post reporter Gene Weingarten several months after the event, “but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made.”

Weingarted came up with the experiment to see how ordinary people would react.

And how did they react? For the most part, not at all. More than a thousand people entered the Metro station as Bell worked his way through a set list of classical masterpieces, but only a few stopped to listen. Some dropped money in his open violin case (for a total of US$27/RM81), but most never even stopped to look, Weingarten wrote.

The text above, penned by an unidentified author and circulated via blogs and e-mail, poses a philosophical question: “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?”

Which is fair to ask. The demands and distractions of our fast-paced world can indeed stand in the way of appreciating truth and beauty, and other contemplative delights when we encounter them. But it’s equally fair to point out that there’s an appropriate time and place for everything, including classical music.

Was such an experiment really necessary to determine that a busy subway platform during rush hour might not be conducive to an appreciation of the sublime? Probably not, though it makes for an interesting story just the same.

> This thought-provoking tale came through the e-mail. If you receive similar stories or anecdotes worth sharing, send them to star2.heart@thestar.com.my. Include the source or author if possible. Today’s story was sent in by Bill B.

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