The Violin Player

I have seen this story about a undercover violin prodigy playing in a subway being passed around facebook. Although instead of the real video, they post some cheesy photo of a homeless guy playing the violin. Well unlike most shit that gets passed around youtube, this one is actually true. Here is what the facebook post said:

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 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. Clearly he was late for work. The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tugged 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 top 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 his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $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?

Here is the real video of this event taking place:

Obviously whatever was written about this event on facebook was totally false. However the experiment did take place and I think its worth talking about. People didn’t seem to notice that this violin playing is magnificent. Played by the best in the world!

My take on this is simple. General people have no idea what good music sounds like. Joe Shmoe on the street wouldn’t be able to tell the world’s best violin player from a mediocre player. It really is that simple. People have no reason to think that this violin playing is exceptional, and so they keep on walking. If they paid $100 for a ticket, and were watching among an audience of thousands, they would “know” that this music is exceptional. So the question shouldn’t be “How many things are we missing.”

But rather “How many things do we actually not care about, unless we are told we should care about them?”

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