It was a cold morning the twelfth of January 2007 when a man placed a violin case on the icy floor of a Washington DC Metro train station, opened it and removed the violin inside and began to play.
He played six Bach pieces for about forty five minutes and 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 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 because clearly he was late for work.
The one who paid it the most attention was a three year old boy. His mother tugged him along in such a hurry, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist and 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 and all the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.
In the forty five minutes the musician played, only six people stopped and stayed for awhile. About twenty gave him money but continued to walk. He collected $32.
When he finished playing and silence took over nobody noticed it, nobody applauded. There was no recognition. No one knew that the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the entire world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth $3.5 million.
Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats averaged $100 each.
This is a true story. Joshua Bell played incognito in the metro station and it was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception and priorities of people.
They wondered if humanity intricately perceives people’s beauty, or if it is something dictated to them by peers and media.
They wondered if calendars and clocks were more important to thousands of people then what has been defined as some of the best music in the world.
They wondered if people are so caught up in their own preoccupations, their problems, and their pursuits that they don’t even know when they step into the sphere of the uncommon.
Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post initiated the experiment and the article describing the event won a Pulitzer prize. But even more impacting then the Pulitzer prize is the question that Weingarten asked his readers,
“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?”