To Busy?

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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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    Interesting idea & experiment, but waaaaay too much text for M[c]R. I expected the story to end with him dying and someone saying, “I meant to say I will love you FIVE-ever, which means I love you more than FOUR-ever.”

    Next time cut to the chase then link the article.


    We are missing an awful lot, but the key here is “inappropriate hour”. You listen to music when you have a chance to relax, when you CAN. Not when others want you to. While even on your demanding schedule at work you can appreciate simple things coming from headphones, for most things there’s a time, a place and a method to accommodate said time and space. This place is a highway, it seldom slows down and the only way to appreciate something like a violin on there is to stop and listen. And yes I get the idea that this… Read more »


    Well said.

    Luke Magnifico




    Beauty is a luxury. Luxuries happen after you do your work, after you arent busy.


    Who the F**K is Joshua Bell???


    More likely conclusion: subway stations are a rubbish place to busk.

    Yo mamma

    Too, two, to. Three different words, with three appropriate use cases.


    It’s kind of a lousy experiment. he might of well of been playing on the highway. If you chose a different venue, ie a street corner on a saturday afternoon, you would get alot more people to stop and appreciate when they arent rushed. It isn’t really about being busy, but when you get up in the morning, you dont plan to account 5 minutes to appreciate art. and the subway schedule sure as hell isn’t going to accomodate for that either.


    Playing whilst many were on their way to their jobs, “it was a cold January morning”, would never prove much. Had this same infamous violinist played for that same amount of time in the same location when people were leaving work or on their way home… I believe this experiment would have ended differently. Here in London, there are tons of buskers and if someone has some real talent worth listening to – I’ll stop and listen. BUT, if I’m on my way to my job, I don’t care who’s playing, can’t go to his/her concert if I don’t have… Read more »

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