Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Startling Social Experiment on Beauty

In the Washington DC metro station one chilly morning, a young man played six classical pieces on a violin, with his case opened to accept donations.

During the 45 minutes he played, just over 1,000 people passed by.

He played for three minutes before a man paused to watch. After seven minutes, a woman dropped the first dollar into his case. After 10 minutes, a three-year-old boy stopped to listen but his mother tugged him away ~ an act repeated several times with children and their parents.

At the end of the 45 minutes, the musician had collected $32. He left without collecting a single applause.

The musician that morning was Joshua Bell, one of the world’s greatest violinists. He had been playing some of the most intricate violin music ever written ~ including the “Chaconne” from Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor ~ on an 18th century Stradivari violin valued at $3.5 million. Two days earlier, the young virtuoso had sold out Symphony Hall in Boston at $100 a seat.

The metro-station performance was part of a 2007 experiment sponsored by the Washington Post about people’s perceptions and priorities. The question: In a commonplace environment, at a regular hour, do we perceive and appreciate beauty?

Click here for the complete Washington Post article.


Trée said...

I read this article some time ago and it has remained a favorite of mine, but I had not seen the video. Thanks for posting Greg. Beauty is an interesting thing. I fear I might have been one of those individuals that walked by without a thought.

Gregory LeFever said...

Somehow I doubt you would have just walked by, Trée. It doesn't seem to be in your nature. I'm glad you enjoyed seeing the video. On the Washington Post page, there's an audio track for the entire 45 minutes of Bell's playing.

Sophia said...

I didn't get a chance to read the article, but two things popped up in my mind. The first is that, people were probably too busy getting to and from work to "stop and smell the roses".

The other could be...

I think many people thought he was a beggar, and unfortunately many many homeless beggars are ignored. A lot of these beggars are street musicians that get ignored. People would rather pay $100 watching a famous person than 10 cents watching a homeless person, and sadly it seems it doesn't matter how good they are.

Anonymous said...

I think people-society have become sheep (not desing sheep) and unless the PR or "spin" is there ex: "This is important-famous etc" then they don't have the originality of soul to just listen to their own soul. Simply to hear what is speaking to them be it music, art and to know they can rush about, and get errands done while still being present. There can be profound beauty in the grace of a hand that pushes a cart. The media-world-social laziness has numbed many to "dumbed down" waiting for the 3 second spin. Internet, blogs, everything must take only a short time or no audience. Wish I had known cause I would of made sure the who's who knew and make sure they showed up on the street to watch. But would they? Maybe not. Maybe they rather pay the $100 and be seen at the "right place with the right people listening to what is named the right music"?! We're losing the social ability to know, and want real beauty.

Tag said...

Its a shame we don't stop often enough to appreciate the beauty around us. This is a perfect example. Though I will almost always stop to watch and listen to a good busker.