Monday, May 31, 2010

Perceiving Beauty

In Washington, D.C.'s Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007 a man with a violin played six classical pieces for roughly forty-five minutes. During that time approximately two thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.


3 minutes: 
A middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried on his way.

4 minutes later:
The violinist received his first dollar from a woman who threw the money in the hat without stopping.

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

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 harder and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes:
The musician played continuously. 

During this time, only six people stopped and listened for a short while. About twenty gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour:
The musician finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded.

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.

This is a true 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 people's priorities.

The questions raised:

  • In a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?
  • 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?

How many people pass by and we do not make any effort to know them--or really, to see them?

In what ways do we take day-to-day beauty for granted?

What is one beautiful thing you are grateful for today?


  1. This gave me chills. I probably would have tugged my kids along.

  2. Thank you for this lovely post. What a great reminder to look for beauty everyday!

    So many beautiful things I'm grateful for today....the huge thunderstorm that rolled through this a.m.; the mama robin pulling a worm from the Earth to feed her young; the beautiful blooming flowers in the front gardens....

  3. I would be interested to know how that musician felt afterwards.

  4. @Shelly--me too!

    @Deb--I'm grateful for Fall Out Boy's rendition of Beat It and the very light thunderstorm we had today. And Crayola watercolor paints.

    @Shelly--I wonder how the people felt when the realized they missed a hundred dollar a seat concert that was "free" to them. What I REALLY wonder is how bummed people were that they didn't try to steal the violin. Just kidding!


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