Thursday, February 5, 2009

An unusual Experiment

This week a friend of mine sent me this true story. It is about a man who sat at a metro station in Washington DC, playing 6 pieces of Bach on his violin for 45 minutes. Since it was the rush hour, thousands of people, most of them on their way to work, passed him. With the exception of a few who briefly paused to look and listen - some were even gracious enough to put money in his hat - the majority just rushed passed, almost as if they were swept along by a mighty river.

The one group of people who did, however pay some attention were the children. One three-year old in fact became so intrigued by this strange musician, that he instantly stopped and tagged at his mother to join him…but she just kept pushing him along. According to the story, this happened to several children.

When the man eventually finished, only 6 people had stopped and stayed for a while. About twenty gave him money, but then continued to walk at their normal pace. No-one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

What nobody realised at the time, was that they were part of a social experiment on perception, taste and priorities, organised by the Washington Post - the aim being to observe whether people can still perceive and appreciate beauty and talent in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour.

Because - and that’s the ironic, if not sad part of the story - the man they walked past without really attending or listening to, was one of the best musicians in the world, the violinist Joshua Bell. Not only was Bell at that moment playing one of the most intricate pieces ever written on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars, but two days earlier seats, averaging $100 each, were sold out for one of his many concerts.

Listening to the story made me realise again to what extent the compulsions and speed of our modern day society had blunted our senses and impoverished our lives. And how we need to take more time, practise more patience and especially regain the eyes and attitude of children to really see and discover the infinite richness of life. Because the most sacred moments and events are usually much closer to us than we realise. Just like Joshua Bell and his violin.

Carel Anthonissen

1 comment:

  1. Carl,
    You can read the whole article at
    or watch the video of the 'concert' at

    Greetings from Johannesburg!