The Violinist at the Station


A man in jeans, T shirt and baseball cap, stood in the Washington Metro. He took out his violin, threw some loose change into his violin case and began to play.  It was rush hour, 7.51am.

The violinist began with Bach’s Chaconne, one of the composer’s most complex pieces.

63 people passed by before someone acknowledged the violinist. The man turned his head only briefly though, then hurried on.

The second person to notice the violinist was a woman who tossed him a dollar note.

A three year old wanted to stop and watch but his mother pulled him away. Every time a child walked by, he or she wanted to stay but the parent scooted them on.

In 45 minutes, 1070 people walked by. 7 people stopped for at least a minute. 27 gave money. The musician collected $37.

The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the finest classical musicians in the world playing on his violin worth $3.5 million.

Three days earlier, he had played in the Symphony Hall in Boston – the average price of a seat was $100.

Joshua Bell’s performance was an experiment set up by the Washington Post to observe perception, context and priorities. “In a banal setting, at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?” The Post goes on to say: “If we can’t take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that — then what else are we missing?”

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