Joshua Bell performs incognito in Washington, D.C. Metro station

In a Washington, D.C. Metro station on a cold January morning in 2007, a man with a violin played six Bach pieces. During his performance approximately two thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes after the young man began playing a middle aged man slowed his pace and turned to look at the musician, but kept on walking.

Half a minutes later the violinist received his first dollar; a woman threw the money in the hat without stopping.

Not until six minutes into the performance did someone actually stand against a wall and listen.

A three-year old boy tried to stop and listen but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped and looked at the violinist again, but the mother pushed harder and the child continued to walk, turning his head to look at the musician as he walked away. This action was repeated by several other children; parents, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

In the forty-three minutes that the violinist played, seven people stopped what they were doing to take in the performance. Twenty-seven gave money – most of them on the run – for a total of $32 and change. The remaining 1,070 people hurried by, oblivious to the music, few even turning to look. As he finished playing, silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded. He received no recognition.

The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played some of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days prior, 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 (Read the full, original Washington Post article here).

In a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? 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 in life?

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