Saturday, January 31, 2009

"Signal to Noise"

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC 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 up 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 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 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.

Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an 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

Washington Times

A tip of the "Sydneyland" top hat to dear Comrad Chip for the heads up on this very interesting story.

Btw this wouldn't have happened in New York. ("Ahem, straightens top hat'n tails with local pride.)The hoards of manics in this part of the woods know a good sound when they hear it.

They'd have stopped dead in their steamy tracks by the hundreds to hear this cool cat wail! 'Would'a had fist fights over whether Joshua's Bach or Paganini performances should be top of da pops!


Lino in New York said...

As you pointed out, in New York Mr Bell would have a much better chance at finding recognition -at least of his talent.

Washington D.C. is the cultural anus of America. It after-all is populated by those often too ambitious to develop anything more than an appreciation for team sport and the us-against-them mentality it fosters.

Washington D.C.? They might as well have tried Klezmer on the Bangkok Skytrain.

Fida said...

I am not sure if NY would have been a better place to get more recognition - I think it's sad that we don't pay attention to each other anymore.