He Played the Violin in the Subway

An intriguing social experiment.

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold, December 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 a 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 each.

From: The Washington Post


24 Responses to He Played the Violin in the Subway

  1. Nathan says:

    “TO COMMUTERS, shoppers and tourists passing through the tunnels under Flinders Street Station, he is the busker with the violin.

    To leading figures in the world of classical music, however, he is a “unique” talent destined to perform his contemporary works on the finest stages in the world.”
    – The Age (August 4, 2008)

    This is an interesting article about the exact opposite, a Melbourne busker getting selected to go to the most prestigious music school in the world.


  2. Will Higgins says:

    I always stop and listen a bit if the music’s good. I still remember one violinist in a London tube station. The way the music rang in the closed space, the way it came to you from a distance, it was magic.

  3. Bentos says:

    Context is everything

  4. Daniel says:

    the post tells me more about how we should and smell the roses more. The kids don’t have the pressure to be somewhere like the parents. We should encourage the kids fascination.

    Wow, that was pretty deep for me 🙂

  5. Vincent says:

    This is a perfect example of typical life in America. We never have pleasure time, always in a rush for some thing.

  6. Great experiment.

    This is also about expectation. People don’t expect to hear a world famous musician playing a $3.5million violin on the subway. Therefore they don’t see an anonymous guy in a baseball cap in this context.

    Plus not everyone as an ear attuned to the intricacies of Bach and classical music stars.

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  11. merlion says:

    i always like to listen to music and i have not listened to any violinist i like A.R. rehamen

  12. promote says:

    I like the Violin and the sound of violin is good.

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  16. Nils Bjurman says:

    Hey. Great post… not sure what all the trolls are doing here though.

  17. Joshua Bell a thoughtful read thanksa for the story . On my 70th birthday and I decided to record this song entitled Old Dogs and share this with friends . So far the response is to cool . it’s scheduled for PBS /TV /Radio

    All the best with your creative adventures and Enjoy the music

    Mickey Carroll
    Grammy Nominee
    Gold Record Recipient

  18. cialis says:

    Bell has been something of a adjoining celebrity too, since serving Gene Weingarten at The Washington Hang up pull off a clever prank in which Bell performed anonymously as a busker at L’Enfant Plaza metro and cameras watched how varied people stopped to keep one’s ears open

  19. MonkeyShines4T says:

    I heard this years ago. Recently I looked everywhere for this story.
    I see talented musicians get ignored a lot. The fact is, MOST people don’t ‘get’ music! In a room of 20, one person may really see true musical talent. I see it all the time but this story is a classic representation of it. Thanks for posting it!

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