Appreciating Beauty in the World

There’s a story that floats around the internet that is truly saddening. It details a master violin player performing in the Washington D.C. metro for 45 minutes and receiving hardly any recognition or notice (see full text below). The author asks the question of whether we not we stop and perceive beauty in our daily life.

From the experience of the violinist, it seems that we don’t. By we, I mean humans. I make it a goal to stop and smell the roses, appreciate the finer things in life as the cliches go. But not everyone.

Paris is a city of jazz, but I don’t see as much as I’d like, and as I don’t have a saxophone here, I don’t play. In short, my life is too void of jazz and my  own expression in music. But that changed for a wonderful moment this evening. After a great afternoon of art at the Musee de l’Orangerie, a stroll through the architectural wonders of Paris and a sunset behind the Louvre pyramid and Eifel Tower, I had to get on the metro at Chatelet. Chatelet is one of the biggest underground stations in the world, and I usually avoid it like the plague. Its easy to get lost, reeks of pee, and is too easy a place to get pickpocketed.

But tonight changed my opinion. Just in between Line 4 and Line 1, theres a bit of a wide area, where a classical group often plays music. They are pretty talented, and its refreshing to see an ensemble of 15 string instruments in a metro station. However, tonight, there was a jazz combo, and they were jamming.

They were grooving hard enough to get me to stop, to quell my dying urge to get out of Chatelet as quickly as possible. Two alto saxs, a tenor, bass player and drummer rocked the station, reverberation across the whole of the sprawling area. Their talent and exuberance uplifted  everybody.

It brought my pleasure not just to here them, but to see how many people stopped to listen, to see how many Euros were thrown in the sax case. Paris is a city of beauty, and a city that appreciates beauty. We should all aspire to stop and pay homage to the things that make our world special more often.

A Violinist in the Metro 


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. 

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?

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