Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Something to think about

I was inspired by an email comment from Mama PJ about a post that she had written with regard to where we find God. It seemed to me that God is found in so many things that we tend to take for granted. The more obvious beautiful things that surround us clearly bring to mind a power greater than ourselves.

Yet, there are many ways to see beauty: the mathematician who sees beauty in differential equations; the artist who sees it in the lines of a human body; the musician who feels it in a vibrato, etc. I think that beauty is all around us if we just stop to look for it. And it occurs in many unlikely places. The following is a story that brings this to mind.
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 hurried him along, 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 averaged $100.

This is a true 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 objectives 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?

Here is the complete article.


  1. An amazingly beautiful story. My daughter and her husband both play the violin and would definitely have stopped whatever they were doing to hear Joshua Bell. Isn't it a sad commentary on our society and just points out what I learn in always try to be AWARE of my surroundings, no matter how mediocre they may seem. Thanks, Syd.

  2. I am afraid I miss a lot, but also I have a tendency to notice things others don't. It's a trade off, always.

  3. goes to show, sometimes we like things because we 'should'. and also, it's about perceptions too. how we percieve something at a give time and place, taking into account where we are, emotionally and mentally, at this time. i agree with you, beauty is everywhere, all we have to do i look, or listen, and we'll find it.

  4. My own conclusion from reading your blog:
    I'm glad I took the time to read your post and I am ever grateful I didn't miss it.

  5. Beautiful story Syd! I would hope that I would have taken a few minutes to listen and applaud! But, then again I have a tendency to always run a few minutes late, so that would probably make it impossible to do anything but listen on the run!! Isn't it wonderful that the kids were so interested and sad that their parents push them along instead of letting them savor the moment! I love reading/watching social experiments like that. Last night there was an episode of What Would You Do? where people witnessed a man putting a powdered substance in a woman's drink..a'la a date rape drug. It amazed me that some people didn't do anything! Then a man who steps up to the plate and confronts the bad berated by his wife and told to just sit down and shut it's none of his business! Geez! People can be sooooo strange! Blessings, Lisa

  6. Please don't make me look at myself. It's too uncomfortable.

  7. Kick ass post. Thanks for sharing that story.

  8. Very interesting, and gives certainly gives me pause.

  9. Amazing post. Really made me think of my own rushing around and all of the beauty I am probably missing out on.

    I am sending the article to my husband....he is a musician and will completely appreciate this story.

  10. What a beautiful thought provoking story. I'm always in a hurry (don't know why). I will try and stop and listen to the beauty of life a little more.

  11. Reminds me of a walk I took many years ago with my oldest sister - I kept stopping to greet and pet the dogs on my street, who knew me, and came out to say hello. It drove her crazy that I would "..waste my time that way."
    I haven't changed a bit in that regard, I'm typing this with a mini-dachshund snoozing on my lap. I hope I never lose my ability to see beauty in those of God's creations who aren't human.

  12. Beautiful story.....

    Sometimes I have to go to 34 PENN station. If I get off on a certain subway car it leads me to where musicians are allowed to set up an play.

    I work own hours; so I did stop and buy the CD of a Harlem Band.. One was playing a scrub board etc. I looked them up on-line; they are the last band of this type... and play in many events and get hired out continuously.

    They had loads of MONEY in their own cases.. but you are right no one was standing watching.

    I, myself stood only for about 5 minutes..not because I wanted to leave; but I wanted to get my work done since I have to be home before my son gets home from school. I'm glad I splurge and bought the CD and took a free post card.

    They were spectacular.. the band name is The Ebony Hillbillies (from Harlem) at

    I'm putting the CD on right now because you reminded me of it.

    Thanks......and I hope YOU are FEELING BETTER.

    Betty ann

  13. well yes, you stopped me in my tracks today for sure! I am one of those over loaded with work, family, home program social blah blah blah I could go on, time is not one of the things I am rich in. BUT, I do slow down a little to look, like this morning on the way to my appointment, the sky was breathtaking, and below a valley filled with fog, I WISH I had my camera, but I just took it in...

    then on the way home right down the street from my house, there was a beautiful horse sitting on the frozen ground, or laying more like, and the sun was shining behind him, all I saw was the white frosty ground, his black image, and the beautiful golden sun behind him... wow it was beautiful!! AGAIN I wished I had my camera on me,.... note to self, bring camera, OH and stop more often.
    thanks Syd ☺

  14. You know I wonder if any of those people were in recovery? Those of us that are looking for that little miracle are more aware of our surroundings than normal earthlings. We addicts have always been different. Thanks for you comments Syd, they mean a lot to me

  15. well that pretty much sums it up, doesn't it..... reels

  16. powerful story, syd. wow!! thank you so much for sharing.

  17. Great post. I appreciate being reminded to be in the moment. It's all we have. jeNN

  18. Very well said. In the category of things that make you go hmmmm...

    Syd, I want to thank you for the follow on Irish Gumbo, happy to have you on board.

    Good luck with your search. That type of trouble has affected my own family, so I know a bit about the mountains to climb. Peace to you, Irish Gumbo

  19. OK, Syd. I DID read this yesterday. You had so MANY comments, I just passed on it, my old thinking took over: "He's got so many comments, he won't have the time to read anything I might say."

    Now, I feel terrible, having needed a 'special invitation' to read about J Bell, who, of course, I have heard!

    My own experience: Lotta years ago, I played on the corner of Sixth
    and Vine Sts., Cincinnati, OH. In the central few blocks of downtown,
    I decided to perform my own experiment, set up my open case right on the sidewalk, andplayed my heart out.

    It was then, 50 yrs ago, EXACTLY as you describe (from newspaper). The
    CHILDREN were my best--only?--true listeners, and wanted to stay. Parents (100%) dragged them away from what might have been for one or two, a spark, which could have developed into a career. (I did make $38 for the hour.)

    I was a member of the Cincinnati Symphony at the time, and so it was not a scratchy violin sound--in fact, the same violion I'm using today was almost new then--only 102 years old!

    Well, I wrote a BLONG here, but Syd, you'll be the only one to read it.

    Than you SO much for the story, and for letting me tell you mine.

  20. LOVE THIS! I know in sobriety I am much less likely to simply walk by. Whether I recognize what i am seeing in another story.

    On a lighter daugher is treasurer of the People Watching Club at her college. Yup..there is one..and they take part in experiments such as this...

  21. Syd, amazing post. Incredible. I enjoy beauty so much that often I must remind myself of obligation. Striking a balance remains my challenge. I would stop and listen to him if it meant missing my train.
    Can you repost this?

  22. I had heard about that article and it rings so true. Saddest for me, was the lesson didn't come until I went Deaf. It quieted the noise inside my head, long enough for me to find the beauty without. (Hugs)Indigo

  23. Thanks so much for sharing that, Syd. You know, the musician I would have passed by, but a paper about the social experiment lying on a subway seat. That would have been a different story. ;)


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