Do You See and Hear, What I Do?

Apr 16

In the aftermath of any devastating event, whether it is the Oklahoma City, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, or Boston I’m always aware that I feel not only dumbfounded that such acts of violence occur, but also humbled.  We live in a world where most days are spent ignoring each other either in the office, on the metro, on the bus, or on the street. Yet we are more connected now than ever before through social media. Why does it take monumental events such as yesterday’s Boston marathon bombing or Virginia Tech shooting six years ago, where lives are forever changed for us as people to take notice?

I’m guilty as charged when it comes to keeping your head down and commuting in silence. Take this morning for instance, while on my way to work I, like those around me, was looking at my phone. I read the Washington Post, read emails, and poked around Facebook. It was then that I remembered a post from a high school friend called, Stop and Hear the Music. It is particularly poignant to the observation that we as individuals no longer stop to take notice of the little things. We take for granted that those people we encounter on the street, on the bus or metro, the things we see in our structured schedules will be there for the duration. When did we stop smelling the roses, or listening to the music?

In an experiment initiated by The Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten on January 12, 2007, American Grammy Award-winning violinist Joshua

Photo courtesy of

Bell donned a baseball cap and played as an incognito busker at the Metro subway station L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, DC. The experiment was videotaped on hidden camera; of the 1,097 people who passed by, only seven stopped to listen to him, and only one recognized him. For his nearly 45-minute performance, Bell collected $32.17 from 27 passersby (excluding $20 from the passerby who recognized him). The night before, he earned considerably more playing the same repertoire at a concert. Weingarten won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for his article on the experiment. I challenge us all to stop and make the time to GO down to the Tidal Basin on your lunch hour, SAY hello to the person next to you on the bus, PUT your phone away, and LISTEN to the music.

Below is a brief excerpt from Weingarten’s article:

“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?”

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 at 9:40 am and is filed under Behavior Change, Ogilvy Washington, Social Marketing, Social Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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