Do we have time for beauty?

Imagine that you are in a hurry getting to work in the middle of the morning rush-hour. Still sleepy after last night’s partying and a little nervous about your upcoming presentation to potential business clients, you enter the metro station with a cup of coffee in your hand and a cellphone by your ear. You need to call a friend before another hectic day starts off.

Under these circumstances, how likely would you stop to listen to some beautiful violin tunes played by a young musician on your way to the metro stairways?

Would beauty transcend?

On a cold winter morning back in 2007, The Washington Post arranged for a memorable experiment (a stunt) at a Washington D.C. metro station.

Joshua Bell, a superstar of classical music, held an impromptu concert at Washington’s Union Station. The violin virtuoso played incognito for busy commuters on their way to work.

His world-class performance lasted 43 minutes and included some of the most elegant music ever written, played on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His instrument was more than 300 years old. All in all 1,097 passers-by had the chance to hear his talent that morning.

Normally drawing huge crowds, Bell plays more than 200 international bookings a year. Having recorded more than 40 albums, he has been performing in the world’s greatest halls since his teenage years. When asked about how many listeners Bell would get, Leonard Slatkin, musical director of the National Symphonic Orchestra, said at least a crowd of 150.

The experiment – which was not a scientific one – was to highlight ordinary people’s perceptions and priorities on an ordinary day in a banal setting and at an inconvenient time (as The Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten put it in his award-winning article about the case.) Would beauty transcend under such circumstances?

Sound of silence

By now most you must be wondering how many people did pause after all to listen to Bell playing. Even if only for a few minutes, just to hang around and take in the performance.

A total of seven. And who were most likely to stop? Children.

On that day, Bell made $59 — including the $20 received from a woman who recognized him. He said later that to him, the silence after he stopped playing had been the most disturbing part.

The musician did not play popular tunes whose familiarity alone might have drawn interest. That was not the test. These were masterpieces that have endured for centuries on their brilliance alone, soaring music befitting the grandeur of cathedrals and concert halls.” writes Weingarten.

Would YOU have stopped?

Article based on: The experiment – Joshua Bell playing at metro station