The subway experiment

Perhaps you have heard or read about Bach and the subway experiment, but in case you haven’t, here is a version which is widely distributed by email:

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 thousand 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.

Joshua Bell, violinist.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?

I suggest that you read the complete and  original story as published by the Washington Post about the real incident that happened on  January 12, 2007, containing audio and video links. A followup story “Too busy to stop and hear the music,” is also well worth reading. This whole incident reminded me of what often happens during the organ prelude (or postlude, either) in many churches — people pay no attention to the music and carry on sometimes very loud conversations. As an organist I sometimes thought, “Am I disturbing you? Do you know how much practice it takes to play the organ? Do you know how much organs cost?”

According to the Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America, the range of cost for a pipe organ for a small to medium sized church in the area of $200,000 to $850,000. The Beckerath organ at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu cost $100,000 in 1975. In terms of inflation alone, that would equate to $425,531 in 2013 dollars.

But in my mind, the organ is priceless.


About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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One Response to The subway experiment

  1. Heidi Bender says:

    I had not heard of this experiment before and found the article very interesting.

    I also did not know realize how much practice it takes to play the organ until I started taking lessons.

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