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Nov-26-2011 16:53printcomments

The Violinist

Beware the barrenness of a busy life. --Socrates

Joshua Bell
Joshua Bell

(MANAMA, Bahrain) - Following is a true story that evolved out of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities.  It was organized and conducted by Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post.

While the story has enjoyed nominal circulation, it deserves a larger audience. The full original story can be seen online here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html

The situation:

In Washington, DC, at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, a man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes.

During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

After about three minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About 4 minutes later:
The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

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

At 10 minutes:
A three-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent - without exception - forced their children to move on quickly.

At 45 minutes:
The musician played continuously. Only six people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but 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 theatre in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

Someone suggested that this experiment raised several questions:

*In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?
*If so, do we stop to appreciate it?
*Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be:

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 as we rush through life?

There’s more to this story than a question of whether we can appreciate beauty anywhere at any time.

The question of whether we appreciate talent in an unexpected context is more relevant to most of us.

How many of us take the time or have the inclination to read or listen to great thinkers and writers?

How many people are even vaguely aware of what’s going on in the world? How many of us attempt to justify ignorance with clever statements?

Perhaps Mark Twain was right when he grumbled, “To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.”

We move through life absorbed in ourselves, in our jobs, our obligations, expectations, hopes, yesterday's problems, today's anxieties and tomorrow's dreams.

How much do we miss as we rush through life?


Throughout his life as an educator, Dr. Paul J. Balles, a retired American university professor and freelance writer, has lived and worked in the Middle East for 40 years - first as an English professor (Universities of Kuwait and Bahrain), and for the past ten years as a writer, editor and editorial consultant.

He’s a weekly Op-Ed columnist for the GULF DAILY NEWS . Dr. Balles is also Editorial Consultant for Red House Marketing and a regular contributor to Bahrain This Month. He writes a weekly op-ed column for Akbar Al Khaleej (Arabic). He has also edited seven websites, including bahrainthismonth.com, womenthismonth.com

Paul has had more than 350 articles published, focusing on companies, personality profiles, entrpreneurs, women achievers, journalists and the media, the Middle East, American politics, the Internet and the Web, consumer reports, Arabs, diplomats, dining out and travel. Paul's articles on Salem-News.com are frank and enlightening. We are very appreciative of the incredible writings Dr. Balles has generated for our readers over the years, and we are very pleased to list him among our most valued contributors.

Indulging the hard subjects that keep the world divided is our specialty at Salem-News.com, and with writers like Dr. Paul Balles on our team, we amplify our ability to meet challenges and someday, will see the effects of this exist in context with a more peaceful and generally successful world.

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Vic November 27, 2011 11:07 am (Pacific time)

Nice ! Thanks for this story !

Daniel November 27, 2011 10:11 am (Pacific time)

Paul a few other factors may have been , most of the commuters may have been half asleep very inward because of the weather and running a little late . I remember being on a bus in Seattle years ago during morning rush . An old bag lady was fumbling to get her fare together , the driver stayed stopped . People started screaming at her to get off the bus , in mass ! Commuters also tend to turn a blind eye to anyone they think wants a buck . I have seen some really talented musicians playing for change who were excellent . Most people also just turned their eyes away . $32 is not a bad take for a street musician in 45 minutes . I do wonder if it was a famous pop star what the reaction would be . I love Bach but do not consider him overly popular with the mass population . I doubt most can tell the difference between a good musician and an exceptional one , now thats unfortunate . Again I wonder what the reaction to a Lady Gag Ya or Justa Baby or even Ronald McDonald would have been . Most of the exceptional musicians that play in Americas greatest philharmonics are foreign born , what does that say of our music educational systems .

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