What Else Are We Missing?

A Story of a musician

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning…

A man with a violin plays six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people passed through the station, most of them on their way to work.

After 3 minutes a middle-aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later:
The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes:
A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes:
The musician played continuously.  Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin valued at $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the price of seats averaged $100.

This is a true 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 people’s priorities.

The questions that was raised: 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?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made… what else are we missing?

2 replies
  1. Jonathan Dune
    Jonathan Dune says:

    What Else Are You Missing?

    You have less than 3-seconds to get attention.

    If you want to get the best response with any article in writing, it’s always about you, not “we”. You only have one person to write to at anytime. It’s like a personal conversation. You will always pay attention when the message is relevant to you and personally focused on you.

    If the musician had a stopped someone and said he’d play them a personal favorite, or he posted a written sign saying he’d play their personal favorite if they stopped and asked, then with the personal interaction the process would be different.

    What you appreciate appreciates.

    That’s WHY Twitter fails, it’s not a social or personal interaction. It’s just one person shouting like a town crier or worse yet a village idiot.

    Stop and Smell the Roses,

    You’ll be Glad You Did.

    Always Be Marketing,

    Jonathan Dune
    ole school marketer/copywriter

    P.S. “What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare?”
    – W.H. Davies, Leisure, 1911

  2. Tony Chandor
    Tony Chandor says:

    Similar situation happened in Sydney as reported herein.

    Star on stage, ignored on street

    * By Jonathon Moran
    * From: The Sunday Telegraph
    * December 06, 2009 12:00AM

    Will a world renowned classical flautist make money busking in Sydney? We find out…

    World class flutist Jane Rutter does some busking in the Devonshire St tunnel of Central Railway Staion Sydney to gauge public reaction. Picture: Dean Marzolla Source: The Daily Telegraph

    THREE weeks ago, 2000 people each paid $89 to hear Jane Rutter play at the Sydney Opera House.

    But last week, the international flute virtuoso earned just $20.25 for 45 minutes busking in Central Station tunnel.

    Rutter and The Sunday Telegraph conducted the experiment to see whether passers-by notice the beautiful things in life. And if they didn’t, to pose the question: what else are we missing?

    “It sounds a bit vain but not many people in the world play the flute like I do, so they’d have to pay quite a lot of money to come and hear me in concert and it’s kind of nice to be able to do it for what they think it’s worth,” Rutter said before entering the tunnel.

    Rutter performed stunning works by Mozart, Devienne, Saint-Sa adins and Bizet.

    It’s been more than 20 years since she last busked but Rutter once earned over $200 an hour playing flute outside Mozart’s birth house in Salzburg.

    Start of sidebar. Skip to end of sidebar.
    Related Coverage

    * Flautist’s sound is pure gold Courier Mail, 14 Oct 2009
    * Cuteness wins in busker battle Herald Sun, 12 Sep 2009
    * Tune in to minstrel Courier Mail, 21 Aug 2009
    * Tallent fails to repeat Beijing heroics The Australian, 15 Aug 2009
    * Country girl Jess on the march Herald Sun, 15 Aug 2009

    End of sidebar. Return to start of sidebar.

    Now she plays at the world’s biggest and most glamorous concert venues.

    “It was fun but a little disappointing I didn’t get a crowd,” she said of her latest experience.

    “I think people, particularly in this area, don’t have much time to stop and listen. I don’t think we actually are encouraged to stop and take in beauty in this culture.

    “I’m guilty of it, too. We’re always on the run, talking on the phone and so on.”

    Six minutes in, Rutter scored her first earnings – 50c from 23-year-old Brazilian tourist Anna Muniz, who dropped the money in her hat and kept walking.

    “I felt sorry for her because nobody put some coins for her,” Ms Muniz said. “I love the music – it is really nice.”

    Approximately 2000 people rushed past Rutter, and most didn’t even look at her.

    Just three people recognised the flautist. One of them, Surry Hills resident Bob Guest, walked past a few times before he was astonished to realise it was her.

    “I didn’t think it would be her because I wouldn’t have thought she’d have fallen on such hard times,” Mr Guest said.

    “People pay big dollars to go and listen to her. They just don’t appreciate it because of the context in which she is playing.”

    About 15 people dropped coins in Rutter’s hat, including tradesman Glen Cameron of Eastlakes, who had no idea who was busking before him.

    “I wasn’t taking much notice. I just had a bit of loose change and chucked it in there,” he said.

    Despite the experience, Rutter said she would busk again.

    “It’s been a real eye-opener but I’d do it again, just for the fun of taking music to the people … you might just find me outside the NSW Art Gallery one day.”

    Three years ago,The Washington Post conducted a similar experiment, where violinist Joshua Bell played his $3.5 million instrument in the subway for 45 minutes and earned just $US34.


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