A big family, a reading addiction, and the occasional celebrity scandal are the ingredients of life that create one woman's opinion on just about everything.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

It's All About Perception

I've been holding on to this for a while. Maybe you heard about it when it happened. I got an email about this story just a few weeks ago and it's been rambling around in my head ever since.


Well I often coin the phrase, "It's all about perception." It's not unusual for me to think about a book, news story or circumstance and put myself in the place of another person and wonder what I would do if the same thing happened to me. Like many people I hope that I would rise to the occasion and do the right thing.

This story is a little bit different, but remains a story about perceptions and makes one wonder? What would I have done?

Here's the email I received.

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007.

The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approximately two thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 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 to meet his schedule.

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

6 minutes:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then 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 hard 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. 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.

1 hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

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. Just two days before Joshua Bell had 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?



Blogger sula said...

wow, that is fascinating. thanks for sharing and for the reminder that our perceptions of the world around us may deceive.

5:01 AM PDT  
Blogger lisabea said...


Speaking of true stories and this dapper young man: I attended a black tie event last year--to see Joshua Bell play. After the concert, during dessert and more wine, I straightened his collar because it was crooked and he's a young guy getting a million pictures taken. I'm a MOM! Sue me! He looked at me like I was crazy.

Or drunk.

He doesn't remember it, I'm sure. But that and another faux pas I don't care to mention, made it clear to me that we don't suit.

But Rosie, the concert was amazing. He was amazing. He played Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35 and we were all spellbound.

6:15 AM PDT  
Anonymous Kay Webb Harrison said...

I heard about this experiment not long after it happened. I wasn't surprised by the outcome. However, now that I have heard the piece, I am surprised that they chose that one. It may be a challenge for the musician to play, but I found it boring to listen to. I do love "classical" music, and baroque, romantic, rococco(?), rock and roll, bluegrass, and folk, etc. However, I prefer to listen while I read or sew or work on the computer. People who have to be somewhere at a certain time, especially when children are involved, don't have the luxury to stop and listen to the concert.


9:37 AM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i definitely "imagined" this experiment after i read about it too, and i know i would NOT have stopped. mainly because i wouldn't recognize exceptional violin music, nor an exceptional player.

if it had been nora jones on a keyboard, or brad paisley on the guitar i absolutely would have recognized them and stopped.

although classical music may have an innate beauty it just isn't popular enough to garner the same attention.

9:48 AM PDT  
Blogger Tumperkin said...

What a lovely thoughtful post.

And actually, I really needed that, today of all days.


12:29 PM PDT  
Blogger Rosie said...

sula, frankly I blow off a lot of email forwards I receive, but this one really got me thinking.

Lb, that story is so you and I had no problem picturing the straightening at all. Totally what Mom's do. I dunno know I err on the side of genuine rather than stilted. He probably got a kick out of it.

Kay, I agree about being in a subway station on your way some place and not having the time to spare, or not having an ear or appreciation for the type of music. OTOH, I thought it did beg the question that if it were a person performing a more "popular" type of music would the outcome have been different?

Lusty, very good point. Even if I were going to work and I saw John Mayer or Bruce Springsteen in the subway I'd stop and just be late.

Why Ms. Tumperkin, you know whatever I can do to help the day along!

10:29 AM PDT  
Blogger CindyS said...

I know I would have continued walking but like many I didn't recognize what he was playing. And I don't love the sound of a lone violin. Give me a whole string section and I about weep with joy.

It would be interesting to see someone perform something more main stream and see if the people react.

I know the feeling of not having enough money to give to someone else so I would feel guilty for stopping and enjoying without contributing. Weird probably, but the way my brain works.


12:57 AM PDT  
Blogger CindyS said...

Ohh, we could go deeper and wonder if our knowledge of the arts is so little now because we don't put it in our schools.

Okay, I'll stop now.


12:59 AM PDT  
Blogger Becky said...

Fascinating! I'd never heard this before. Whenever I've gone out and about I've always enjoyed stopping to hear street musicians play or to watch street performers do their thing. Drew Tretick plays his violin at Downtown Disney quite often, and I absolutely LOVE the ambience.

1:10 PM PDT  
Blogger Rosie said...

Cindy, GG and I had a discussion about this and he thought we might be intrigued enough to stop if we weren't in a time crunch, like if we were on vacation or something. OTOH, it's hard to say if the piece isn't appealing.

Becky, it IS fascinating which is why I posted this. It was one of my ponderings that had me wondering what I would do.

4:18 PM PDT  

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