Violinist in the Metro

I am just sitting in a cafe (The Factory) in Kathmandu using their free internet. Someone, wearing a trilby hat, is experimenting with his violin over the incompatible music coming through the sound system. Think partial cats mating or dog’s paw being stood on, partial concert violinist warm up. He is pretty good but just inconsistent. And in the wrong place.

Anyhow, my friend sent me this this morning. Very interesting story. I can relate to it, though not because of the guy fiddling in the corner. I realise I hardly walk anywhere, I bike. And if I’m not biking, I am running. And if I am not either of the above, I am doing something, going somewhere. I don’t fart around enough by half – and I don’t even have a proper job. According to Kurt Vonnegut, that’s all we’re here to do.

I am in Kathmandu. Stinky as it is, it is the perfect place to fart around. Tomorrow I will begin on a professional level.

Anyhow (again), read on and reflect:

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 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 best 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.

Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an [sic] 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?

My additional thoughts would only be that so many people do things because they are “fashionable” that they forget to look at things with their own eyes, listen with their own ears, and appreciate anything with their own hearts.


I don’t know who added the italics, maybe my friend. It also reminds me of something a student from some far northern part of Norway once taught me. We had risen early to go to Masada overlooking the dead sea. Basically his idea was to take a photo with your brain: line up your camera (head); close your eyes for around 60 seconds – the longer the better; open them for a few seconds only; close again, for a short while while your eyes write the image to your soft disk.

I tried it once in Morocco, it works pretty well. When I think of Morocco, I think first of that image. So, next time your batteries go flat…

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