Friday, January 9, 2009


The Violinist in the Metro
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 average $100.

This is a real story. 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 missing?

To listen to a brief clip from Josh's subway concert, click here:


Sayani said...

i hv recently been intimated by an yoga instructor ...who told me that we are facing so much complexity in life is due to the fact that we are going away from nature .....

And thats so true ...i realize it now ....
great wrk as usual WM

happy new year to u too ...
may you run and won as much as you like :)

The Healthy Librarian said...

Fantastic story--and even better because it is true. And so sad, how much we are missing (all of us)because we hurry around-rushing to who knows where.

This is going to be a long reply, but I just have to share 3 things that come to mind from this story.

1. Dr. Richard Wiseman (British) has studied why some people are luckier than others--and one big reason is that lucky people have a more relaxed attitude toward life, that results in noticing more around them--and that means noticing opportunities--like "free concerts" and wonderful music, bargains, job opportunities and new people.

2. Dr. Harold Varmos (Obama's new co-chair of his Council of Advisers on Science and Technology & a Nobel Prize winner) is a cancer researcher who says making new scientific discoveries isn't about throwing more money at the problem.

It's about giving scientists the time away from writing grants to relax & think & play. That's the way brilliant out-of-the-box discoveries bubble to the surface.

3. For some reason the Josh Bell Story reminded me of one of my grown-up son's favorite stories--he keeps this in mind wherever he goes--and it keeps him from negatively judging any down-and-out person he meets.

This is taken from Naomi Remen's best-seller "My Grandfather's Blessing" but it's an old story.

"The story he told me is very old and dates from the time of the prophet Isiah. It is the legend of the Lamed-Vov. In this story, God tells us that He will allow the world to continue as long as at any given time there is a minimum of thirty-six good people in the human race. People who are capable of responding to the suffering that is part of the human condition. These thirty-six are are called the Lamed-Vov. If at any time, there are fewer than thirty-six such people alive, the world will come to an end.

"Do you know who these people are, Grandpa?" I asked, certain that he would say "Yes." But he shook his head. "No, Neshume-le," he told me. "Only God knows who the Lamed-Vovniks are. Even the Lamed-Vovniks themselves do not know for sure the role they have in the continuation of the world, and no one else knows it either. They respond to suffering, not in order to save the world but simply because the suffering of others touches them and matters to them."

It turned out that Lamed-Vovniks could be tailors or college professors, millionaires or paupers, powerful leaders or powerless victims. These things were not important. What mattered was only their capacity to feel the collective suffering of the human race and respond to the suffering around them. "And because no one knows who they are, Neshume-le, anyone you meet might be one of the thirty-six for whom God preserves the world," my grandfather said. "It is important to treat everyone as if this might be so."

What if the Lamed-Vovniks could not do it? What then?" "How do the Lamed-Vovniks respond to suffering, Grandpa?" I asked, suddenly anxious. "What do they have to do?" My grandfather smiled at me very tenderly. "Ah Neshume-li," he told me. "They do not have to do anything. They respond to all suffering with compassion. Without compassion the world cannot continue. Our compassion blesses and sustains the world."

I never would have found your site in a million years, but there were some links from your site to mine--so I just had to check it out.

Looking forward to returning!

The Runner, Dreamer, Observer, Seeker said...

Dear Healthy Librarian,

Thanks for sharing these fantastic lessons. Lessons because I learn much from them. I visited your site every now and then, and find it so useful and informative.
Well done and big thanks!