A friend shared this story. I believe it to be true but have not Snopesed it. Whether the details are true or not, I believe there is truth and wisdom in the message it conveys.


“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 1,100 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, and 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 most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a 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?”


About russtowne

My wife and I have been married since 1979. We have 3 adult children and 4 young grandsons. I manage a wealth management firm I founded in 2003. My Beloved is a Special Education teacher for Kindergartners and First Graders. I'm a published author of 23 books in a variety of genres for grownups and children. In addition to my family, friends, investing, and writing, my passions include reading, watching classic movies, experiencing waves crashing on rocky shores, hiking in ancient redwood forests, and enjoying our small redwood grove and fern garden.
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19 Responses to

  1. utesmile says:

    I read that story before somewhere and was amazed that children hear and see beauty whereas we are so busy , too busy to notice. We should take a break, breath, chill and see the beauty around us. Life is what we make of it. Make it wonderful with miracles.!
    Thanks for the story.

  2. willowdot21 says:

    God alone knows but you are completely right!

  3. I’m glad I didn’t miss this post. Because it sure pulls in to focus what I am trying to value in life. The beauty. Slow down. See what there is to see. Hear what there is to hear. Great post.

  4. It’s true… there is a youtube video of it…. such an important awareness to develop…

  5. This is a true story, Russ, and I just heard it discussed recently in terms of how context shapes value in people’s eyes–it’s often a shorthand. When Bell was in the concert hall, it meant that he had been given the imprimatur of value and was “worth” listening to, whereas in the subway, people quickly determined that he was not worth their time, which is sad, because it underscores how much we’re on autopilot, racing through life, rather than actually experiencing a specific situation. Powerful message….thank you for the reminder…. Lori

  6. gita4elamats says:

    Must make time to smell the roses! 🙂

  7. we human beings are truly complex creatures!

    • russtowne says:

      Thank you for your comment. May you always feel welcome at my humble online home. I believe that humans–myself very much included–tend to over-complicate our lives. Most of us have very similar and fairly simple to understand needs, yet we often do amazing things that hurt or distract ourselves from meeting those needs. I sometimes need to remind myself as to what is truly important to me and place most of my focus there.


  8. Wonderful post, Russ. So interesting and reminds me to pay attention. I want to enjoy every scrap of beauty that appears in my life. Thank you!

    • russtowne says:

      Thank you for your kind comment. I believe wanting to enjoy every scrap of beauty in your life is a great attitude and is likely to help you experience much more beauty than you might otherwise. May you always experience beauty at this site and feel welcome here.

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