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A must read. Awareness.


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?
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Anttu K
woah, thanks for sharing!
I'm a hiker, backpacker, photographer and have discovered that this is true, even in an activity that has a supposed purpose of seeing and enjoying nature. Many with whom I've shared this activity have been amazed by photographs of the beautiful, interesting things they've simply overlooked and passed by on their hurried trek from points A to B to C and so on. Sadly, too many people don't realize that life is in the journey, because life is a journey.
What a great experiment and unfortunately, a sad story. It's a shame what society has become. It doesn't surprise me at all that it was the kids who stopped or wanted to stop and listen/watch.
This is so true. I realize that its not till I am on vacation or in those random moods of reflection that I notice the beauty of things around me. I think I will try and be more perceptive now.
A time and place for everything. I don't think that was it... lol
read about this a while back - I would be one of those people that just rushed by, maybe throwing a dollar in - I've never got any wiggle time in my morning commute.
perhaps these people found his music to be not only intimidating, but perhaps obnoxious. Ever consider that? Come off that high horse.
I live in the Washington, DC, area and remember this story very well. It did not surpise me knowing what the early morning rush to work is like on the Metro.
Unfortunately if were not moving on schedule were not making money.
How many other things are we missing??? Good question. Way too much, thats for sure. Thank you for sharing.
Moira Eve
Enjoyment is about context. When I'm rushed, stressed out about getting to work, I'm not going to slow down to enjoy a concert. Give me a break! This doesn't make me a bad person, or unable to appreciate beauty and culture. Different example: I also enjoy cooking for my family, and on the weekends, when I can take my time to plan a menu and enjoy the sensory pleasures of cooking, I really enjoy it. On the weekdays, after 11 hours of work and commuting, not so much.
I cant’t find anything strange on this. Absolutely as I would have expected. And this is the key: Expectation.
Personally I only stopped to read this post because it has so many +1s and shares.
Perhaps those people didn't like his music, had somewhere more important to go to. Perhaps it was on the day that I stood outside the station whistling Mary had a little lamb and they were rushing past him to join the 1000+ ppl crowd listening to the beauty that is my whistling. The conclusions of this research are flawed. Who is to say he is such a great musician? That the music is so great? Because experts say so? Because he sells out full theatres? Perhaps this just shows that those people don't have a clue whether it is actually any good. Ofc I don't necessarily believe that myself, just wanted to point out that simple tests like these should not be so overvalued.
+Moira Saucedo , Please make breakfast on the subway. Promise I'll buy from you every day... :)
As a 'semi retired' session musician this doesn't surprise me in the slightest. Myself several other musician friends some of them incredibly good players used to go out and busk in our local town centres (back in the eighties it used to pay more than any studio work but that's another story:)).

It taught us a lot about human nature, how people would walk around, cross to the other side of the street, turn their heads, drag kids away and do their very best to ignore us. However, once you managed to stop half a dozen people then a crowd would gather - people are afraid of being singled out in a large group.

Here's the kicker though. No matter how good you were, where you played, how loud you were, how big the crowd you stopped you could guarantee to multiply your takings tenfold using one simple trick - take a dog with you!!!!
I wonder how many of the audience in Boston that took the bus or train to the concert? While I agree with the underlying point I find the "experiment" to be weak and not proving much of anything. If anything it shows which cultural expression that is considered "better". 
Recently read a study about wine testers being told wine is bad either before or after drinking it, and contrasting the self-reported results. Those told a wine was bad before drinking it actually enjoyed the wine less, implying the negative comments changed the perceived taste of the wine. The environment is really important for stuff like this.

+andy kay is right in pointing out that busking is an entirely different art from classical music... bring a dog, use a shoe instead of a hat/case for tips, engage the audience somehow, and find a location where people are wasting time having fun and you can definitely draw a crowd.
Location and timing are everything because location defines the construct and timing shapes the reception.The same music in a theater is different from the music at a subway station, the artist notwithstanding. However, if the environment is staged - lights, sound effects, etc. - then it could have been different. Or would it? People at a subway station are going "somewhere" and time is a constraint.
I've seen this before and have wondered how different the scenario might have been if my husband and I had walked through there with time on our hands. We would probably have sat on a step and listened to the whole thing. Why? Because my husband would have recognized the music and the quality of the instrument and performer. So, I wonder, if just one couple - or indeed one person - had responded in that way, might it have caused others to take a moment and appreciate what they were hearing?
+Moira Saucedo The experiment was not to show how bad people are... The experiment was more about perception, taste, and priorities of people. Obviously if you are late for work, your priorities for work will be much higher than other activities. You cannot waste time and stop to listen for music or song. (But if there are an terrible accident, then you may stop and try to help, it would be another case.)

You were missing a point of the expeiment. Not listening the joshua bell, donot make you a bad person. :)
Seriously! We don't even stop to find out the answer to "Hi, how are you?" when we pass each other.
Context is everything... but great experiment.
Cliches. One in particular comes to mind.

Sometimes you gotta stop and smell the roses.

I'm not minimizing in any way, just remembering how true cliches are. Takes a lot to become a true cliche. It starts as something clever then, over lots of time, is realized as universally true.

Slow down every now and then. Smell the roses along the way.
I don't believe this story! Music being played at that level would have drawn a crowd.
We (indianapolis) used to have a busker downtown during the better weather months. I was impressed by his gravelly voice singing the old blues and gospel songs. It seems that nowadays, street musicians are just beggars trying to avoid the panhandling citation. I wish my city had real buskers! Please note: this is purely my own observation of indianapolis and not anywhere else. I also tip very handsomely for true musicians busking!
It is a sad state of being when one can't even stop too appreciate the beauty of life.
No longer do we just have a "me" generation we have a "me" society and it is going to cost us dearly if we don't all snap out of it.
That is unbelievable! people would have noticed!!
I think people are more worried about feeling solicited for money by a loser playing music on the side of a walkway. Perceiving "beauty" has nothing to do with it.
It goes to proove the Universal Truth that 'The Battle For Daily Bread Prevails Upon Beauty In Any Form.' It is a case of the Right Man playing best music at the Wrong Time and Place. However my highest respects to Joshua Bell for bringing this fact to the notice of one and all in the most effective way.
+Gene Shin over here, busking got killed by over zealous licensing and shoppers just not carrying cash as everyone shopped on cards. For a while, it got very professional. we would take a PA system, small generator/invertor and put on a proper show selling CDs and collecting tips. We earned a reasonable amount of money in our 'spare time' but that doesn't happen any more. The 'pro buskers' won't go out if they earn pennies but the 'beggars with instruments' will.
So true, for me, the older I get the more every little thing seems more important. We really need to stop and smell the roses !!!
I find this a fascinating social experiment on many fronts. Do we become preconditioned to the routine, environment, and people around us to basically go on automatic mode? In many cities, we often associate by default someone playing music around a metro station as potentially homeless or a starving musician and usually hurry by them. Regarding homeless, in the US, it is now estimated that one out of every four homeless persons is actually a veteran. So this brings up another interesting side point. Would you support a homeless Veteran on the sidewalk or near a metro station who is struggling, or would you walk on by?
Interesting story! This helps illustrate the sad truth about perception. I'm sure the same thing would happen at LAX.
I susually never read these things..But this one caught my eye..I love classical music, just music ingeneral.If I were in the Area I prolly would have stayed for at least a song.. if I could depending on my busy day.Besides time is an obsticle in this world were very little time to appriciate things less often based on he fast pase of society and obligations. Sad Very Sad.. This generation is crumbling too many kids have too many things and no appriciation.. in my opinion. This is a wonderful story.
Incredible story. Has analogies to the book "Obedience to Authority". Children perceive as their epistemology is in development consequently constantly changing their ontology. Grown ups on the other hand walk around with a false permanent ontology. With a flawed ontology their epistemology has to be wrong, but they do not take the time to unlearn it. !
amazing. I am sitting here wishing I rode the metro more now so I could have witnessed this.
We listen to music in the background all the time, we only take pleasure from it when we stop and make time for it. Unfortunately that's not in a busy station were we are busy getting on with life.
this is silly... those people were on their way to something... work, doctor visits, etc. what if it were a world class comic doing standup? people laugh at a comedy club because that is what they came for. the same jokes in the subway ARE ANNOYING! I don't feel guilt when i walk past a street performer ever. If i have time and the performance is good, I will stop to pay attention and then i will throw money down. Other wise, i walk past without a second thought. Are we children that demand people stop their day to pay attention to us? I hope not.
This just proves that we live in a modern society where rushing in is considered the "normal" pace.
It's sad for me to admit this, but I sometimes do that too. I ignore just as many street musicians as these people. The reason?
I have my own things to worry about than to stop for a while and listen to the beauty of life.

It's sad, but we all do it.
Thank you for sharing. Stories like that remind me to slow down and enjoy the present moment.
He needed a group of break-dancers.
This music is for a very selective audience of snobby old farts willing to pay over 100 dollars to listen to boring music. If someone relevant to working people, lets say Chris Martin of Coldplay, or Paul McCartney, would have been there, everyone would have stopped.
Even if I was late for something, I SO would have stopped, taken a pic/short vid or something. I love the violin. Most beautiful instrument out there imo.
I don't wear a watch, I ride a bicycle and always take time to enjoy what makes me smile.
There was a social experiment where people hung 100 dollar bills on a tree. No one really bothered to look except for a few people
we definitely have to slow down and maybe even stop more often. we have our entire lives to hurry, but if we do we will surely miss out on a lot. obviously some of the good things about the life we're hurrying through so rashly.
interesting how art is measured in dollars (price of the seats-price of violin etc.) only good thing in this case are kids-not their parents tho...
The percentage of people in the general population who are interested, able and willing to appreciate art is very small. If Joshua's true audience were 1 in 1,100 he would be more popular than just about anybody. The outcome was a foregone conclusion. There's a lot more to it than context. If you had to herd people out of the Metro straight into the theatre and ask them to pay what they thought his performance was worth (without knowing the name) he would have done marginally better because of the context but understanding and appreciation levels would not have been hugely different.
+NEY MELLO Didn't you read the post? "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?" The keywords commonplace, inappropriate, unexpected. The idea of the experiment was to see if busy, rushing to work people would stop for just a moment and enjoy the beauty.
Brian C
As a DC area denizen, I agree that the DC culture could use a little more, well, culture. How often do you hear of the President visiting the Smithsonian or bump into your Congressman in the Tidal Basin enjoying the Cherry Blossoms? For that matter, how often do we do this ourselves, who live near these treasures? Not enough.

At the same time, when you pick a place like a Metro station, you're selecting an audience that is, by definition, annoyed and hurried. This was an extremely poorly-controlled experiment, from a scientific perspective. The Metro has a terrible record when it comes to being on schedule, so any regular coming in will be in a hurry in the hopes of catching the earliest train they can and most folks going out are already late. The people in this experiment are on their way somewhere and go through the Metro station by necessity more than by desire. Few are looking for excuses to spend more time in a Metro station than they absolutely must. I can't say that I would have stopped to listen to this performance any more than I would have stopped to read Gene Weingarten's Pulitzer Prize-winning article about it, in that environment, even if was up on a Jumbotron. I stopped to read and comment on this post on a lazy Sunday morning in my home, not during the week in transit to somewhere. So what does this article speak to, Washingtonians or our transit system?
I don't agree with the conclusion drawn here... There is a moral here, but it has more to do with the extravagant value society places on celebrity, artists and pieces of art. Yes, it's all beautiful, but how much better is it than the piece of music played by a beggar on a $20 violin?
This is just sad. Some people will never learn...
Oh my gosh...this is more than words could say. I believe a life lesson has just been learned.
It's an interesting project, but exactly what is it we hope to extrapolate from this? Are we looking to criticize the people who did not make donations? $32 in a 45 minutes space of time is nearly 43 dollars an hour: almost 5 times the going hourly rate of a "good" job in my local area, so no problem there.

Are we looking to criticize peoples' lack of appreciation for nice things? There's a couple things to consider here. First, if you're marching through a train station at rush hour, chances are, at the behest of some other entity (ie. your boss at work, your kid at soccer practice), your presence is required elsewhere, and if you are not where you are expected to be, the person expecting you to be there likely will not have sympathy for you when you say "sorry I'm late. I stopped to watch a guy play a song." So is it a lack of appreciation, or is it wisely keeping your priorities in order?

Second, with today's media-driven fast-paced society, chances are, by the time you reach adulthood, you've seen it all, done it all, had it all. Nothing impresses you. Yea, a violin is one of the most soothing instruments ever, but unless you've never heard one before, even the best-played song by one of the most esteemed musicians on one of the most valuable violins will barely warrant more than a sideways glance. This is especially true if we're heavily distracted by reason one.

As I said, this experiment is interesting, but what exactly should we conclude from it? The answer is nothing. We can't accuse people of being less cultured because they don't stop to listen to music when their day is doing its level best to crush the life out of them.

What if this exact experiment were performed in a park, on a Sunday afternoon, when peoples' lives weren't breathing down their neck? Without a comparison, these are hardly scientific results, and even at its best, it's little more than subjective conjecture.
We have had chamber concerts in the Subway that the vast majority of people noted and did not even really notice that these were professionals playing beautiful pieces underground. So it balances. In the NYC Subway you can find almost anything. What galls me is that the performance artists who perform to loud bad music (The kind that the majority of young people listen to....) gain more crowds then the people playing jazz or such works as the one chosen by Bell.
Context is essential to apprehension. Not at all surprising.
A reminder to stop and smell the roses - or listen to the tune in your head!
Tim C
a reminder that proper, targeted marketing can make all the difference in your sales
I enjoyed your rant +Doombadger Doomus and of course, a train isn't going to wait for you just because you stay to appreciate "the arts". But I like the idea of being reminded that it's good to take time to "smell the roses" (just to be as cliched as possible). It is true that we have more convenience around us than before, but we find less time in our lives than ever before. Anything that reminds me of this (and as a parent it IS important because I know my son would appreciate me to take more time, as well as be successful in my career). We have so much that reminds us to be busy, what's really wrong with something that reminds us to slow down every now and then. Forget the politics, forget the paper looking for a great marketing and take from it something that could add value.

Besides, to be honest, I enjoyed the post and I haven't seen it before. So thank you +Gary Levin for sharing when you did.
Beautiful story. It shows how a clear mind of a child was more able to realize that something was happening that a busy mind of an adult.
It makes me sad to hear people getting defensive about their busy lifestyles and how 'arrogant' this artist must be to have conducted this experiment. I think the moral of the story is that WE, as a society, have forgotten what is important. And I think the comments I'm reading prove it. We've become the 'rat in the cage', spinning in circles, rushing to work to make other people money, and to keep a roof over our heads. Yes, we need to survive and we need jobs to do that---it's unfortunate. But look a little deeper into the meaning of this experiment.
it's also amusing to note that people are willing to spend a hundred bucks to hear someone play the violin when they know it's a famous musician, but when they don't know who it is, he's not worth a hundred bucks. we all like music, but apparently it's the name that's worth a lot of money.
As a DC area resident, I recall this experiment well. I believe Joshua Bell played only one Bach piece, though: Partita No.2 in D minor, better known simply as "Chaconne." You can hear him play part of it here: BACH & friends HD Joshua Bell Chaconne - Michael Lawrence Films . It is a truly remarkable piece of music, with deep complexity and some of the most difficult techniques that a violinist can attempt. Police were ready just in case Bell was recognized and got mobbed, especially since the Stradivarius he was playing was worth several million dollars. As it turned out, only one person recognized him towards the finish. She had attended his concert a few days before and realized immediately it was Bell. She just sat there grinning, and told no one.

I think both too much and too little can be read into this remarkable event. Too much, if we think too little of everyday people who are just on their way to their jobs and are concentrating on very different issues. Too little, of we forget that sometimes amazing things can happen right around us, if we just take the time to listen to that little voice that says "that's remarkable!," or "that's important!," or "that's beautiful!" You don't need a Joshua Bell to have one of those moments, though. They can happen almost every day if you listen a little more carefully. They can involve such mundane things as your family, your friends, or someone you just happened to meet. And sometimes, you may even be that moment for someone else, if you realize you can and are willing to try.
This really isn't poignant, touching or thought provoking. Honestly, people pay $100 not just to see a talented musician but also for the atmosphere of the location and other factors that make up the entire experience. How many people would pay that to see a concert at 8am in the morning on the side of the street even if they promoted this was a famous artist (much less i'm guessing).

I've seen a lot of really talented people playing at the metro over the years. It would be more poignant and interesting to take a talented, unknown 'street' performer and have them open an act at the Kennedy Center.
yeah i guess you can say wow because our lifes go by so fast and before wee know it wee are to old to realise why wee didn't have much time to appreciate Life.
And if they played classical in the background of their daily lives more often, they would soon recognize what I am sure this fine Man knew and wanted to share. Thank you +Gary Levin and +Sue McElligott
I have. I've been listening to classical music all my life, despite a brief flirtation with R&R during my teenaged years. (Didn't go to any concerts....)
Oh Tim C, that was so wrong. But it also is so true for our out of touch people in the USA. Moving fast to make money, missing what really matters in this world!
A lot of people are completely missing the point here. The experiment didn't conclude that people are vain or are that they are lesser in some way, only that they are too busy to enjoy a world class musician and world class music.

Him playing at the busiest time of day when people don't have time to stop was intentional. That was the whole point of the experiment, to see if they would.

The biggest flaws in this experiment are that not everybody enjoys Bach, and that most people can't appreciate the level of skill at which this piece was played, simply because that is not what they are into.

I am a huge classical music fan, an amateur violinist, and a Josh Bell fan, but I may not have been able to stop either if it meant being late for whatever I was rushing off to. It would have been agonizing though, to walk on past...

Interesting that the lady that stayed to watch until the end of the first piece knew who he was (the article seemed to have ignored this incident for some reason). If it had been a musician of similar skill that she didn't recognize, would she have stopped?
Yes, i agree, sometime we do like that. Thanks for sharing....
Makes you think what is our modern life all about. People are busy workign hard to save for things they rarely get chance to enjoy because tey are working hard to buy yhe next thing. When they get that new TV or bigger flat they get little real joy from it, but still keep strying. Is life about striving for harmony, peace and happiness? Only in our dreams - in reality we work hard following that carrot that is not really 5 feet ahead of us on that stick we believe it is, but all arounbd us if we just stopped an openned our eyes.
I did 3 years ago - I gave up a 6 figure rat race job in London where I saw my kids only on a Sunday (left before they were up got home after they were in bed - 6 days a week) and now live in Thailand with them, where I home schoolt hem and spend my lide enjoying my family and life. I may bee a 100 times poorer than I was, but I am also so much richer.
discussed this post with 3 people in a hangout.
Thanks for the replies. Lots of answers I did not expect +Rob Pauls Most interesting answer. I always try to understand from what perspective each writer comes from....some are happy, some are pragmatic, some are too busy, some are bitter. Music and art are all that some people have or want....are you a failed musician? are you broke? Why not see music or art as an escape, relapse and perhaps things will get better for you. Will Social Security improve without the music? Your response seems inappropriate, even weird.
What do you expect from the working class though, somebody gotta get it. People know how critical jobs can be about being "late". People work hard, and the economy is still rough. God bless ..
+Kenneth Austin People work too hard and forget to stop and see what really has value. Our economy is really drone driven by people who learned from university of phoenix how to cut costs. No creativity and pride left.
i love how the children are the only ones who did appricate the beauty of wonderful music, if it were to them they would probably listen until the music ended... shame everyone is to busy to appricate the beauty around them.