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Stop & Hear the Music

It was a cold January morning in 2007. A man stood at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin. 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 violin case 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.

One of the people who paid the most attention was a 3-year-old boy. His mother hurriedly tugged him along. The child 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 at their normal pace. He collected $32.

No one knew, except for one person who recognised the violinist, but this was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He was playing 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 where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

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 the perception, taste and priorities of people.

The outlines of the experiment were: 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?

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?

Check out the YouTube clip:

Something to think about...

What is beauty?

Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz),

or merely an opinion (David Hume),

or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?


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