A Violinist in the Metro

Repeated here in honor of all of the invisible players.

Two years ago today, on January 12, 2007, a man sat at a Metro station in Washington, D.C. and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. 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 musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried on to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till 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 tugged 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 all the 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 a while. 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.

No one knew this 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 and the seats averaged $100.

This is a real 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 priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour.

Do we perceive beauty?
Do we stop to appreciate it?
Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

10 thoughts on “A Violinist in the Metro

  1. Shalet says:

    I don’t even want to think about how many beautiful moments I’ve missed because I simply wasn’t paying attention. Thank you for the reminder to “stop and smell the flowers.”


  2. Shawna says:

    I lived in DC when they did this and what a stir it caused when they released the story. Oh, how I wish I could have been there to watch. I like to think I would have stopped as usually if I am in the Metro, I’m not headed anywhere but for myself.

    Still, there are so many things that I definitely do not stop for throughout my day. Musicians being the exception. What a wonderful video, where the woman stops to watch and the world moves around as the two face each other. And only after one (adult) person has stopped do others validate themselves in taking the time.

    Thanks for reminding me of this event. It really does put things into perspective, something I can put towards my photography and slow-living goals, reminding myself to stop and recognize what I feel is beautiful despite its context.


  3. Shelli says:

    I wonder how many would have loved to have stopped for a while, but they feared for their jobs if they did? Unfortunately, I don’t think we live in a society that allows us to linger when we really want to. It’s a wonderful reminder, however, that we should always try.


  4. Rowena says:

    I remember when that story came out.

    I adore music in the subways. I loved walking down a tunnel, and having glorious music filling the space.


    From classical violin to Andean flutes to the Beatles to a Tuba, yes, I once heard a tuba and it held up very well to the rumble of trains passing.

    I like to think I would have allowed that music to fill me as I walked toward it down that tunnel in the back. I like to think that it lightened other people’s days, even if they didn’t stop.

    But maybe they just thought he was a beggar.

    With a 1.5 million dollar violin. (?!)


  5. Holly says:

    i didn’t hear this story until just now, and it makes my heart swell with. . . i don’t know what. everything mushed together: awe, delight, anger, sadness, unbelievable joy. what an amazing act of connection, or lack thereof.


  6. Jena Strong says:

    Just a quick comment to say to each of you: thank you. Your presence here, your comments, remind me not to miss you, or myself.


  7. Andrea says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Jena. Jennifer just read the post to us in yoga today and it blew me away. I’m forwarding your post around to make sure a lot more people at least see the video. I’m pausing now!



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