Joshua Bell’s Social Experiment: Violin in a Subway

I saw this article in facebook, particularly in “opposing views” group. This is an interesting social experiment .

Disclaimer: This article comes from the OV link.

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 1,100 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 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, and 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 most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where 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?

Personal Reflection

Yeah, maybe not all of us are interested in violin recital or maybe it is logically predictable to know the result of such experiment since it is rush hour.  I think that is not the point . Imagine if Kobe Bryant or any other popular celebrity will perform a similar act, the result would be different right?

My insight is sometimes we are focusing “too much” in other things which we thought are equally important . Just like the story of Mary and Martha  in Luke 10:38-42. Martha thought that she was serving Jesus by making meals for the visitors unlike her sister Mary who merely sat at Jesus’ feet.  However, In the eyes of Jesus, Mary sees the blessings because she is not preoccupied like her sister Martha (Imagine, you would prefer to do kitchen works instead of hanging around with Jesus). We may be blinded with our fame, careers, power, wealth, or even with our “sin” that is why we cannot see the blessings around us. The blessing is already with us, we only need to recognize. Once in a while, we need to pause, sat at Jesus’ feet and be thankful with things we already had and, one by one the universe will reveal to us all other beautiful things we never knew that was already there!

For a different perspective on the story of Mary and Martha please refer to this article :





Posted on February 26, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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