Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Violinist



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 a 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.

Who is he?

The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with his 1713 Stradivarius 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 averaged $100 each.

15 comments:

Delwyn said...

Hi Dan,

... and the moral of the story is most people are in too much of a hurry of too oblivious to hear magic... except for children, who are getting the inclination rubbed out of them...

Happy Days

Butler and Bagman said...

I remember that story...I think there was an interview on PBS radio. I love it! You told it well. Thanks.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Delwyn,

I actually thought of you in regard to this story. So many of us walk right past the miracles of this world, particularly those deeply magical plants, but you pause, snap their photographs, and share them with the world. I've got a feeling you'd have stopped to listen to Mr. Bell's fiddling.

Dan Gurney said...

Mark,

I didn't write it; just found it on the web and shared it. All I did was to strip off the moral of the story as I found it. There are a bunch of morals that might be drawn from it.

Margaret Pangert said...

The moral I'm taking from this incredible story is, "You never know what you want." Theoretically, who wouldn't want to stop and listen to a virtuoso performance on the street?

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Margaret—

Sure! But Bell didn't look like a virtuoso.

I thought about my post today when, on my walk through Sebastopol, I passed a violinist playing on the sidewalk in front of the bookstore. He was good. I didn't linger...just like the people in the story.

Delwyn said...

Hi Dan

I do always stop and most nearly always give a little money, because I figure that they are making an effort to support themselves...
and that is admirable...

Happy days

Margaret Pangert said...

I'm smiling at your remark, Dan. It's so true. our expectations are largely shaped for us and then we look through that lens.

Sarah Lulu said...

Ohh yes a marvelous story.

I will take it as a Universal reminder Dan ..to appreciate whatever comes my way.

Alden said...

I think it shows that people who need to get to work have work and all their other worldly worries on their minds at that time of the morning and that the NY metro at rush hour is a poor place for a concert. The giving and recieving of magic has a time, a place and a context, and if we want to honour that magic we do it honourably whether the context is a concert, a bed, a sunrise, the laughter of children or a conversation with old friends - all these things are important and deserving of a quality venue.

Dan Gurney said...

Well said, Alden! I agree very much that this experiment was a set-up. Context matters a great deal. A subway station makes a poor place for a concert; a concert hall is a terrible place to wait if you're planning to board a train.

Laura said...

Is the moral supposed to be bigger than people use the metro or the subway to get from point A to point B and don't let themselves be distracted, even by beauty, so they can make it to work on time? I wonder what would have happened if he played outside, during lunch hour on a nice day, not too hot.

Anonymous said...

First, it is an issue of supply and demand; there was supply but not deman.
Second, $42/hr or about $85,000 p.a. ain't to shabby, particularly after tax (i.e. cash) and likely more than a musician in an orchestra makes (hence why they moonlight with jingles and tuoring)
Third, although a high level performance to be sure, most don't recognize this nor allotted the time to appreciate this.
Finally, read the poem 'The Violinist' by Archibald Lampman.
However, still an interesting experiment.
and, re the children, they would have stopped for a monkey banging on a drum.

Dan Gurney said...

Anonymous, good point about the monkey banging on a drum! I think even a bunch of hurried adults would stop for that. If high culture were as fascinating as we all wish it were, television wouldn't look a bit like it does.

Anonymous said...

I think most people passing through a major subway are programmed to ignore people doing anything for tips. The rationale is that they don't want to encourage change beggers because it will just excacerbate that person's financial woes, vs steering them to get a job.

That said, I would have stopped if I heard a random bum on the street playing that exquisitely.