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Stop to smell the roses. Really.

Perhaps you’ve seen the following, which is currently in e-mail circulation. It’s worth reading — and the story is verified by Snopes as true. (Thanks to Charlotte for the tip.)

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.

This is a real 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 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?

In the video below, see how many people actually stop and listen, or pay any attention at all.

You can read an article about this event at the Washington Post.

How about you? Would you have stopped to enjoy the beauty of Bell’s violin, or would you have been too rushed and stressed to pause for a moment? What do you do when your kids want to slow down and observe something or talk about it, and you’re already late for wherever you’re headed?

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. cathy #

    i love joshua bell. i took k to tanglewood to see him play when he was 6yrs old, i didn’t have the money, or a properly working car to get there well, but i made sure it happened. yes, the car overheated, and there, of course is a story to go with it. late night for the little guy and he was still amazed. there’s magic in the way he plays, not just extraordinary technique.

    all my years in and around boston, i was friends or acquaintainces with many of the T buskers. if i only had a token for a ride home for them in my pocket, if they were were good, i gave it. i often let the kids throw what change i had rattling in my purse into guitar cases, etc. many times, we let our train pass, to hear a little more.

    there is no question: i would have stopped. if you don’t pause for beauty, you will miss it, guaranteed.

    January 20, 2009
  2. that video was fascinating. i too would have most definitely stopped. i would have been the woman standing there in the middle of the walkway while everyone else moved around me. having never lived in a city with mass transit, this isn’t something i’d have the opportunity to come across during a busy work commute, but regardless, i know i’d stop. maybe it’s the musician in me. most people do let so much beauty pass by them, and it seems that the children re the ones who push you to slow down and smell those roses. i want my girls to experience all sorts of art…i drag them to art museums, arts festivals, art galleries and even antique store just to see what’s there. they have full range to bang on my piano whenever the mood strikes them, and that’s more and more often these days. we sing songs together and make art together. it’s great fun!

    January 20, 2009
  3. I hope I would’ve stopped. I certainly enjoyed stopping to listen to musicians in Europe. They were everywhere-in the subways, at the train stations, on street corners. Especially in the grayest part of winter, the music always put a spring in my step. And while in Brussels, with my Hungarian classmates, I got to witness an impromptu concert when the realities of the Forint/Franc exchange rate prompted them to (literally) sing for their supper.

    Now as a mother, I would certainly like to expose my children to beauty, live in the moment, and appreciate the work of artistic people. But like the mothers who pulled their toddlers away, there’s always that fear that an inquisitive toddler isn’t welcome. That somehow their presence, their exuberant noise and movements will get in the way. If I did pull the boys away, it wouldn’t be that I was in a hurry, but moreso a sign of respect to the artist. When the boys are older, with more self control, certainly I will take them places like Kelly does her twins.

    January 20, 2009
  4. cathy #

    brittany, i can tell you from loads of experience most street musicians love when the little ones dance in front of them or drop (and sometimes try to take!) money in the case, as long as parents keep them away from cords and mike stands.

    January 20, 2009
  5. Charlotte #

    My attempt to arrange a radio interview with Joshua Bell about this was thwarted by the fact that it happened two years ago… I will find another excuse, just watch me!

    January 21, 2009
  6. What an incredible social experiment. Thanks for sharing.

    I’m not sure that I would have slowed down to appreciate the beauty. (I don’t know much about classical music and very little about the violin.) I would like to think that I’d encourage my children to relish the experience though, if they showed any interest in slowing down. We have, in fact, done this before with street musicians on the subway or in the city. I guess, in that way, my kids bring out the best in me and remind me sometimes to stop and smell the roses.

    January 23, 2009

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