Saturday, 7 February 2009

A Violonist at the Metro


This is a business blog primarily to highlight and discuss issues in business. However, once in a while, I'll post something not directly connected to business, but might be of general interest. This is one such post.


This was sent to me by my good friend Prince Asirvatham. Thanks Prince for an interesting story. This E Mail is doing the rounds; so you may have seen it already.


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, 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 - "Chaconne" from Johann Sebastian Bach's Partita No. 2 in D Minor, written for a solo violin. The violin he played with was his usual Gibson ex Huberman handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari and worth $ 3.5 million. Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theatre in Boston and the seats averaged $100. Two weeks later, at the Music Center at Strathmore, in North Bethesda, he would play to a standing-room-only audience so respectful of his artistry that they stifled their coughs until the silence between movements.


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 watch the video and the audio of this at the Washington Post website.

6 comments:

  1. I would love the same kind of experience to be done in the Parisian subway. I remember a time, about 20 years ago, when people stopped to listen to good music in the subway (even to listen to not so good music), and some artists have known a beautiful career thanks to their performance there. For example Keziah Jones has been discovered in the French 'metro'. I would love to think that French people running to work (or foreign tourists) would still stop to listen to good music, whatever its style.

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  2. Yes Sandrine, it was stated that if Le Monde had done the experiment instead of the Washington Post, the result would have been entirely different.

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  3. This was indeed a very interesting experiment, but I think, relevant only in a western context. Imagine a violinst at an Indian train station - Mumbai's Churchgate or Kashmiri Gate on the Delhi Metro track!!

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  4. Aashish, Substitute Joshua Bell with Jagjit Singh joining the 8.31 Bhajan Mandali and you'll get a Mumbai version !

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  5. athivas29/12/09

    We have been so corrupted that we need a social class to maintain our appreciation of beauty,too!! How sad??

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  6. @athivas - Oh, unfortunately when we are immersed in our own self, we cannot see the beauty around. Still floored on your reading my older posts.

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