Slowing down to appreciate beauty

I found this on Ageing Gratefully and felt I had to pass it on. It marks the end of the most glorious Birthday Month and I want to say thanks to you, Dear Reader, for sharing it with me. I hope we get to do it again.

At a Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about forty-five minutes.  During that time, approximately two thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
After about three minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried on to meet his schedule.
About four minutes later:
The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.
At six minutes:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.
At ten minutes:
A three-year-old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.
At forty-five minutes:
The musician played continuously. Only six people stopped and listened for a short while. About twenty gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.
After one hour:
He finished playing and silence took over.
There was no recognition at all.
No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3-5 million. Two days before, Joshua Bell had sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the very same music.
This is a true story.
Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the DC Metro Station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.
The experiment raised several questions:
  • In a commonplace environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?
  • If so, do we stop to appreciate it?
  • Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?
One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made . . . how many other things are we missing as we rush through life?


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10 Responses to Slowing down to appreciate beauty

  1. A fascinating story Freda. I can well believe it.
    For 28 years I worked in london and most of that time had to take one or more of the Underground lines. There was always someone playing an instrument or singing (more rarely), somewhere en-route.
    Some of them were appallingly bad, some mediocre others fantastically good. Many were unemployed musicians trying to keep body and soul together with their one talent. The Underground police would move them on at intervals, they were regarded as beggars and therefore in breach of several laws.
    Sometimes people would hurriedly throw a few coins into the violin or other case, now and then – very seldom – there would be a spontaneous burst of applause, but mostly the crowds hurried on to work or wherever.
    There was very little room at rush hour in the tunnels and no-one had room to stand and make time for the musicians but, for myself anyway, there was always a new lightness in my step after an encounter with one of these mysterious underworld characters, and even if I didn’t have time to stop I’d find myself humming what had been played at intervals through the day.
    Sometimes, more of an impact is made than is clearly visible.

  2. Marcia Mayo says:

    What a beautiful, albeit it sad, story.

  3. Tabor says:

    I can believe this. First, not everyone can appreciate the difference between good and fine music. Second, this is a context where people have schedules and deadlines and are not inclined to stop that mode of rushing which they have been doing for years. Third I would like to have this experiment played out at the end of the work day and it might be different. Maybe not, but I would like to think so.

  4. Tim says:

    I’ve heard that story before, wondered if it was an urban legend; so I checked, and apparently it’s true.

    I can sort of relate, from my work in photography: you spend the time thinking hard, constructing a photograph variously with message, soul and/or artistic merit; but the people probably want a “quick fix”, something cheap and approachable, and if you want them to slow down and appreciate solid work then you have to take it aside and make an exhibition of it for the purpose.

  5. LC says:

    Tim, I checked too. I didn’t know how to check the video here to see if it was authentic:

  6. Lyn says:

    I’ve heard that lovely and sad story before. I try to be sure I slow down and appreciate my surroundings often. I’m not always good about it, but I think I do better than most. Of course, not living near something like DC Metro station or NY Union Station makes it easier!

    Happy Birthday one more time, dear Freda. Tomorrow I get to start celebrating my own birthday month!

  7. freda says:

    Lyn, have a very happy birthday month!

    Tim and LC – you are both so good to check to see if the story is true. I’m a bit shame-faced that I accepted it as true without much thought. Quite a story though.

  8. Cloudia says:

    wise! post

    Aloha from Waikiki

    Comfort Spiral



  9. Wow, I love Joshua Bell and live 5 blocks from a Washington DC Metro stop. I wonder if I would have recognized him if I were still in the commuter crowd? I love the buskers in general and always throw something their way. My favorites were the Peruvian band in the Metro in Paris. They played that wonder panpipe music and wore the colorful hats.
    Take time to smell the flowers I say, or listen to the music. That’s how I get to hear and see so many songbirds every spring. Dianne

  10. Lydia says:

    What an amazing story. Joshua Bell played in Portland last month and I really wished to go. Maybe next time.

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