T Nation

Perception, Priority and Beauty


In Washington, DC , at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about an hour. During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About 4 minutes later: The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At 6 minutes: A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 10 minutes: A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

At 45 minutes: The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour: He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. 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 dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:

In a common-place 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?


I dunno about classical music, but if rammstein was playing, I would stop and listen.


As a music lover, and one who has been guilty of not slowing down and breaking out of life's routine, this made me genuinely sad.


Very insightful ac. It's so easy to get caught up in everyday life we often forget why we are doing it all in the first place.


There is no long poetic answer needed.

The average person can't differentiate between a busker playing the violin and a world class musician.

Plus I hear the acoustics are a lot better in a concert hall than in a subway. I could be wrong though :slight_smile:


Pretty sure it's about as simple as most people not giving a shit about classical music - particularly in the early morning when they've got places to be. Maybe if he covered Stairway or something more people can relate to he would've certainly made a few more bucks.

No offense to Josh, but there's a reason why that shit only gets one station on the radio - and even then it's not solely dedicated to people shredding on violins. This video shows it sounding like an obnoxious thing to be listening to in the early morning.

But, nope, surely the fault lies with everyone else for not appreciating beauty. But even then, if he had bigger tits I'm sure more people would've paid attention to what he was doing.

Has anyone mentioned that the violin also kinda sucks?


Good quick read. Very interesting to think about. Thanks OP.

It reminds me a little of Malcom Gladwells book tipping point, in which he makes the argument that setting and surroundings basically dictate what people will do and how they will act.


There was something similar in Mtl a while ago.
While this doesnt change anything I disagree with the premise that music written centuries ago is the end of all in the world of serious music. It is a big joke. I think there is much more uplifting "classical" music available if you search and that beethoven, mozart and all those big names make weak music. I like Bach a little bit better though.


This is so true. In that case If you put 80 musician that takes themselves very seriously, well dressed in suits playing in an auditorium with all kind of wanna be sophisticated elderly people in the audience who act as if what the musician played is very good, the guy who doesnt have a critical mind will think whatever is played must be GREAT. They use this in commercial sometimes.


Beauty, whether natural or man made is not for everybody.

Some people like shiny worthless crap, churned out by the millions. Can you blame them? After all, they are STATUS SYMBOLS!

I mean, who wants to stop and listen to some dork bang on wood with horse hair on a subway platform when they can listen to pure digital awesomeness on their New I-Phone 4!

And why would anybody explore a mountain hollow when they can blast by in an Escalade Platinum Edition with its well appointed luxury, being soothed by the sounds of a top end audio system in an acoustically engineered sound environment on their way to something that is way more awesome, exciting and of Much Greater Importance than some old oak trees and some stupid creek?


This is precisely why I prefer living overseas. No hurry to get nowhere. Not everyone is moving at a break-neck pace. People speak. You can actually stop and breathe, and realize that no, the world is not ending because you hit 'pause.' This was a lesson it took almost getting blown up to learn.

And I thought JB looked familiar in that first pic. Damn good artist. I would pay a grip to see him perform live.


I would have stopped because I love music. I would not have given him the appreciation he deserved, however out of not knowing who he was, but music lovers would likely notice talent when they hear it and pause long enough to "respect" it.

Most people don't know music. All they know is there is a bass line they like with a catchy tune that may sound great as a ring tone.

In other words, I am not sure this showed anything but that most people have bad taste and don't know real talent when they hear it.

We knew that already.

Otherwise, Souljaboy would not exist.


Most people are heading somewhere when they are taking the subway and most people don't appreciate classical music. It is not surprising most people don't stop.


Wow, thank you for posting this. It is very thought-provoking. I can only assume that I would have stopped, as I am a big Bach fan, but I don't know whether I would have truly appreciated the experience.
That being said, I can recall specific buskers whom I've encountered throughout the years that have incited a strong response from me. While on vacation in Singapore, I happened across somebody playing an Engrish version of Air Supply's 'Lost in Love,' and it was honestly one of the highlights of my trip. And fuck you all, that is a great song.


This is old as shit.


To me, the saddest part is the ignorant parents who pulled their kids away.

Imagine inspiration being squashed so suddenly. No wonder the arts take a backseat in this country.


I think the reason for this thread is bigger than music it self. I think what the OP is trying to get at is that we get so into our own little world that we often miss out on beautiful experiences and opportunities.

Sometimes walking through new york city is amazing. Some people might say: "it's dirty, it's loud" but it's much more than that in my opinion. If you are on the subway and make a conscious effort to notice all the little details, all the people, all the buildings, the sky, the water, MUSICIANS playing in the subway halls, it becomes a totally different scenario. Your mood and point of view changes just by noticing your surroundings. It's simple but many people don't actually take the time to do it.


Sometimes walking through new york city is miserable. Some people might say: "it's lovely, it's bustling" but it's much less than that in my opinion. If you are on the subway and make a conscious effort to notice all the little details, all the assholes, all the run-down buildings, the pollution, the disgusting waterways, Addicts begging in the subway halls, it becomes a totally different scenario. Your mood and point of view changes just by noticing your surroundings. It's simple but many people don't actually take the time to do it.


The first thing that struck me in the vid is that most of the commuters are consciously avoiding walking directly by Joshua Bell by using the right-hand side set of doors. At some points, it look like there's a force field between him and the public which forces them to walk in an arc around him and out through the far doors.

They are aware of their surroundings, they just don't want to give him any money and their body language is reflective of their intention not to give him a dime.