Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Beauty in Unexpected Places

Perhaps some of you have already read about the social experiment organized by the Washington Post on perception, taste, and priorities of people. If you haven't, it went something like this:

A man stood at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin.

It was a cold January morning in 2009. 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 a 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 case 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 the whole 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 awhile. 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.

Now here is the real shocker. No one knew, 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 with the average seat cost being $100.

This experiment leaves us with several questions. In a commonplace environment, at an inappropriate hour do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing? Today, take the time and truly look for the beauty fully expecting to see it.

37 comments:

Mark said...

I love this story. It clearly illustrates that we often miss so much that is right in front of us and that we will go out of our way at great expense to experience that which often is free to us if we are open to receiving it.

Aaoiue said...

We are very dupe or somtehing like this. In Spanish the word is "papanatas" (and papanatismo) and refers to people who is apparently cultivated but that cannot recognize art if there is not a frame or a red carpet around it.
The fact that the children recognizes something special through that music, proves that it was really a good performance!

Very very good story, Carla!!!!

Carla said...

Mark, You've got it completely. That's exactly what I think too.

Aaoiue, I love that word and definition. The only somewhat similar word I can think of that we sometimes say in English is niveau riche, which we use for those who became rich quickly but never acquired any class...are still somewhat vulgar. Your word is more precise in terms of what I want to describe though. I think I'm going to start using it. Thank you;

The Fool said...

Hmmmm. Not to be the thorn, but it also brings in to question whether that type of music is the "best" or "most beautiful." A $100 ticket and the compliance of the rich is not necessarily the mark of such. I often question what the rich are willing to spend wads of money on. Just a notion...I know I won't find much agreement out there.

Sherry Peyton said...

Alas we are always "going" somewhere. It's our world. I live in the woods, so I can appreciate a bit better what is there to see if you aren't in such a hurry. Thanks for a lovely story, that makes a valuable point that we all need to revisit from time to time. There is just so much we miss and in this scary world, that is just tragic.

Peter said...

How very true - a wonderful post.

Steffi said...

I love your story,Carla.Your story is really true and a piece of our often shallow daily life.
This story can be in every big city around the world!Because we running with closed eyes ...
You find always the right words,Carla!

Rowena said...

I'm covered with goosepimples right now because this reminded me so much of the time my sister and I were in the Metro in Paris. Same situation with a musician (guitarist) and zillions of people, but hardly anyone paying much attention. Now I doubt that this guy was anything to compare against Mr. Bell, but I pride myself in knowing that I actually heard beauty in that mad rush, and stopped for awhile instead of making a beeline for coffee and croissants!

we're doomed said...

Stop and smell the roses. What a wonderful concept. We all miss important life events because we are in a hurry to go to work, where if we quit or get fired, they won't remember our name a month later. I hope I would have stopped and listened for a few moments

Jannie Funster said...

I would be the one lingering, clapping and enjoying. And actually letting my daughter linger too, if we didn't have an apointment to keep.

You remember the Joni Mitchell line "the one-man-band at the quick lunch stand....?" this SO reminded me of that lyric. I forget the name of the song tho. Every one passed the street musician by "because he hadn't been on their t.v. screen."

Carla said...

Fool, Your questions and pondering crossed my mind as well. You make a very valid point. But I still believe that there are many things of beauty that we fail to see or hear or recognize as we are often far to caught up in our own little worlds to see much further than our bellybutton.

Carla said...

Sherry, Thank you for your comments. Indeed we need to pay a little more attention to all the miracles that abound around us.

Peter, Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Carla said...

Steffi, You make very good points...not just in the big city, but sometimes in smaller places too. I'm glad you liked the story.

Rowena, You're a real gem. So glad you stopped to admire and listen. I'm sure the coffee and croissants were still there when you arrived.

Carla said...

We're Doomed, I think many of us hope the same thing. And very valid point about the corporate workplace.

Jannie, I'm sure you would. You seem like the sort of free spirit who stops and admires many things of beauty.

The Fool said...

I agree, Nomad. Ophaloskepsis is much to widespread. :)

sirdar said...

If blogger doesn't stop saying that my comment a duplicate....

What I was saying before was that I would usually walk by musicians in a subway as I consider it a form of begging. I realize that some really need the money, but there have been many people on the streets here that have been begging and then when they are done they go to their new SUV's and drive off. There was a story in the news about it being quite bad here. But, I have on occasion given the odd dollar...but it has been very rare lately.

The Fool said...

Typo...that should be omphaloskepsis...it actually is a word... sorry for any confusion. Oh...and too, too... (I seem to be suffering edit-itis this evening). Have a good night.

Envoy-ette said...

Beauty and motherhood have a lot in common. It's the working mother who doesn't have time to stop for the small beauty in her child's life because she is rushed. She misses many things, but doesn't even realize it and will defend her choice until she reaches old age. And then, she is smacked in the face with regret. How many people at the station that day saw the story and regretted not having stopped and listen? A single day vs' an entire missed childhood. You are right, it is about priorities.

VE said...

Everybody says how great he is but has he ever been on a bubble gum card?

JBelle said...

love this. be back.

dawn said...

Wow, great post and what a wonderful story of human nature. I think for some; going to the symphony is merely a status symbol. I wonder if a music aficionado had actually been there in that 45 minutes, would he/she recognize the playing, the value of the violin or who was playing such a complex piece. I think there are some out there who would have known had they been in the right place at the right time.

JBelle said...

This is actually something I think about quite often, as Ignatius referred to it obliquely when he spoke of the face of God being in all things. particuarly us. I think there is so much random beauty about that we fail to see or appreciate it, much as the parents dragging their children down to the train did not. beauty abides in all things and is immune to our moods, our preoccupations, or our haste. this story and your retelling is a perfect example. lovely and beautiful, as are the photos and the comments. what an uncommon find on a dreary friday night.

love.

Annie Wicking said...

Once again, You have caught my imagination. I now wonder if my book was published by an upmarket publisher would I get better feedback from my unpublished writer friends than I do now or would they still say the same unkind remarks?

Or is it the time and place that makes all the differents?

Thank you Carla.
((((Hugs))))

Annie

Pamela said...

I would like to think I would have stopped.

But, so often we have a goal -- and didn't leave time to smell the roses.

such a shame.

Isle Dance said...

Thank you for sharing this. Stunning, isn't it?

Carla said...

Fool, We all have difficulty with editing every once in awhile. Sometimes I think I have a learning difficulty, but perhaps it's just fatigue.

Sirdar, You make a very valid point. There was a case a number of years ago in Victoria where rich kids would spend their days busking, sometimes make decent money and then go back to their comfy lives. But to me, good music is at least adding beauty to the world. It's not outright begging without offering anything in return.

Carla said...

Envoy-ette, Thank you for your keen observations. Treasure your children while you can.

VE, Hmmm...somehow I doubt it. Actually, who makes it on bubblegum cards these days?

Carla said...

Dawn, I totally agree...about the status symbol or importance of image for some and I too would like to think that the right person at the right place would have recognized the music as the master piece that it was.

JBelle, Precisely the reason I love being around small children, they still see everything with awe in their eyes and appreciate beautify as if it's the first time they've ever encountered such a sight.

Carla said...

Annie, And you make me imagine. I am sure that your book will someday be published by an appreciating publisher and will find the audience who has been waiting to read it.

Pamela, You speak the truth. We try to fit so much into a day. I'm starting to think that we're much better off to do less but to do it well, and to always leave time to smell the roses.

Carla said...

Isle Dance, It certainly makes one stop and think.

Annie Wicking said...

Hi Carla,
my blog now has a new address
http://anniewickingsjourney.blogspot.com/

Please keep in touch

pandave said...

Hey CARLA!!! I woke up this morning and I thought - oh my, I haven't heard from Carla in a while. So, happy Sunday!

I remember this tale - there was a video too - I got it by way of Oscar Grillo's blog and it gave me pause. IN the subway here in New York. we have entertainment all over the place and now I do tell myself to take a moment and take it in. I also like to watch those who are enjoying the entertainment - it is another thing that brings much needed smiles into our lives.

Thank you for the reminder.

Carla said...

Annie, I was unable to view your blog. So sad. I hope you keep in touch.

Pandave, Thanks for dropping by. I know I haven't been around much. February was incredibly busy. I hope March is more reasonable. Yes, it's almost as much fun watching someone enjoy entertainment as watching the entertainment itself.

Fida said...

Beautiful or not... we don't hear or listen anymore - noise is all around us - especially in a city - so we kind of envelope our mind just to have a few quite moments.

Carla said...

Fida, You are very right. I think we all need downtime but as we rarely allow ourselves this in this day and age, we turn off our senses as we're rushing about to try and gain some semblance of peace.

paris parfait said...

That is an amazing story. Too often we don't stop to appreciate what's happening right in front of us. It's a disease of the West!

Carla said...

Tara, Do you really think this is just a phenomena that occurs in the West? I wonder.