A man stood 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 rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station.
One man stopped for a few seconds, a woman threw him a dollar and continued on her way. The first person who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother pushed him on and he continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children.
In the 45 minutes the musician played, only the children seemed to want to stop and listen.
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 $100.00.
Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment. Because he was playing in a subway station, people assumed he was a street musician playing for handouts and paid no attention to his music.
Apart from the children, people passing saw and heard what they expected to see and hear from a street musician.
Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?
Or do our stereotyped notions crowd out imagination?
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?