If Joshua Bell played the violin in a subway station and people were around to hear it would anybody listen?

by

violin-374096_640

Likely we have all read some version of the story of famed award-winning violinist Joshua Bell playing his instrument incognito in a Subway station.  If you haven’t, you can read a version of it here:

http://www.snopes.com/music/artists/bell.asp

The idea was to put an incredibly talented musician, who in ordinary performances sells seats for an average of $100 per ticket, into an unusual situation and see if people could still recognize the formal beauty without the proper dressings.  The outcome?  Apparently, they can’t.  The hypothesis?  If we can’t stop to appreciate the beautiful music of a critically acclaimed child prodigy then what else are we missing out on?

I found this article to be heavily biased and slightly demeaning.  It made me feel like I should apologize for something I haven’t done based off of findings that ignore simple truths in order to promote a writer’s preconceived ideas.  I do agree that sometimes people don’t seem to appreciate what is in front of them and if you’re not careful you may overlook something life changing, but I don’t think this experiment, as interesting as it is, is proof of that.

I found this video, which via cute animation, uses Aristotle’s work “The Art of Rhetoric” to explain why people were less likely to listen to Bell in a subway station than they were to in a concert hall.

While I find the explanations given in this video refreshing and quite useful they also seem to miss two very obvious reasons behind people’s lack of interest in subway Bell as opposed to concert Bell:

1. Time – Arguably, the most valuable commodity in a human’s life is time.  People in a Subway during morning rush hour (as they were during the Bell experiment) are not there for a lack of better things to do, the majority are there because they are going to work.  They have a limited amount of time to get to their job, where they trade their time and talents for money in order to buy food, clothing, housing, heating etc.  Even if you told someone who is trying to make it to work on time that the man playing the violin was Joshua Bell and that seats to his concerts go for an average of $100 they probably still wouldn’t stop because being late to work jeopardizes their job security and seeing a man playing the violin, no matter how good he is, isn’t worth losing your job (for the average person).  I bet if you ran the same experiment on the weekend when people were using the subway more for leisurely pursuits you would have a higher stopping rate for Bell. 

2. Beauty is subjective – No matter how technically skilled or world renowned Joshua Bell is, if you don’t enjoy the violin as an instrument and you have no taste for classical music you aren’t going to stop and listen to his music just because someone else would pay $100 to.  The reason Bell sells out his concerts is because he his advertising a location and time that people who appreciate his music can go to appreciate it.  You can’t just randomly drop Joshua Bell in the Gobi desert and expect that Joshua Bell fans will suddenly materialize because his strings are reverberating there.

My point is that there is more to many situations than people think to point out and making conclusions based on limited observation is annoying when unnecessary.  Joshua Bell is an amazingly talented musician and is appreciated in the right circumstances.  But, just because I put a Van Gogh in the dumpster and the homeless man who sleeps there doesn’t appreciate it doesn’t mean society as a whole is incapable of appreciating great things.

READ MORE

Shifting Perspectives: 3 Learnings From a 3-Day Training

Shifting Perspectives: 3 Learnings From a 3-Day Training

About a week ago, I completed the second live (virtual) training in the process of becoming a Certified Professional Coach through iPEC. Once again, my mind was blown! It reinforced for me that virtual workshops can, and do, work, and, in a lot of ways, I prefer them...

read more
Finding My Work-Life Balance

Finding My Work-Life Balance

In my previous post, I told the story of how I got back into consulting after becoming a mom. All of the diverse experiences I had during that journey have helped me to find my work-life balance by… Defining Boundaries “Go home,” my first boss said 12 years back —...

read more
How I Got Back to Work After Being a Full-Time Mom

How I Got Back to Work After Being a Full-Time Mom

I Landed My Dream Job Throwback to 2014, I had completed my MBA, landed my dream job as a consultant, and was hoping that my new consulting career would exponentially ramp up my career growth for the next 5 years. This would position me to take on critical decision...

read more
Self-Awareness is Key to Belonging

Self-Awareness is Key to Belonging

In August of this year, as part of our annual company meeting, our team at Thought Ensemble participated in the foundational session of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training led by Dr. Nika White, IOM, CDE (she/her/hers). One of the most meaningful moments...

read more
Finding Your Organization’s Magic Pixie Dust

Finding Your Organization’s Magic Pixie Dust

It is often said that organizational culture is like a fog — it is all around us; it impacts our ability to see, to move quickly, and to deliver; but we cannot quite put our finger on it. Indeed, some organizations see their culture as a byproduct of operations,...

read more
We’ve Refreshed Our Brand!

We’ve Refreshed Our Brand!

Why have we refreshed our brand, you ask? Well, as we have grown and matured as an organization, we felt that our previous brand elements no longer represented us as well as they could. You see, we founded Thought Ensemble back in 2008 to help companies better compete...

read more
Thought Ensemble’s Purpose — Inspired in 2020

Thought Ensemble’s Purpose — Inspired in 2020

I recently wrote about how company purpose is being tested and inspired by all the events of 2020. This topic is very real for us at Thought Ensemble. We’ve been thinking a lot about what really matters as we’ve navigated the...

read more
How 2020 Is Testing and Inspiring Corporate Purpose

How 2020 Is Testing and Inspiring Corporate Purpose

In August 2019, the Business Roundtable rewrote their statement of corporate purpose. I followed this with significant interest being that I have never forgotten the debates about corporate purpose in business school almost two decades ago. We were taught that the...

read more
Why Purpose-Driven Organizations May Struggle With Change

Why Purpose-Driven Organizations May Struggle With Change

I love working with companies who really want to make a difference, beyond just making money for their shareholders. I mean, making money is fun and all, but it is even more rewarding to join in on a just cause. Plus, as this HBR article explains, companies who have...

read more