Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Music: A Sense Of Priority

On a cold January morning in Washington DC six years ago, a man sat in a subway station with a violin.  For 45 minutes the busker played Bach pieces. Since it was rush-hour, during that time around 1,100 people passed through the station, mostly commuters.

After three minutes, a middle-aged man slowed and stopped for a few seconds to listen, but then hurried off to his train.

A minute later the violinist received his first tip; a woman threw money in his open violin case but without stopping, continued on her way.

The person who paid most attention was a three-year-old boy, who stopped for several minutes to listen to the busker. Finally, his mother tugged at him and the boy continued to walk, turning to look back. Similar interest was shown by other children, all of whose parents moved them onwards.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only six people stayed to listen and tip. About 20 others also gave money, but continued walking at their normal pace. The busker earned around $32. When he’d finished playing no-one noticed. No-one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

The violinist was Grammy award-winning Joshua Bell, among the world’s greatest musicians. He’d just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell’s incognito playing was organised by the Washington Post, as a social experiment examining people’s perception, taste and priorities.


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