Are You Listening?

By Jim Whitt

One morning three years ago a violinist stood on the platform of a subway station in Washington D.C. and performed six classical pieces on his 1713 model Stradivarius.

Nearly 1,100 people passed within earshot of this early morning performance at L’Enfant Station but only a handful stopped to listen. The musician collected $32.17 in tips for his subway gig if you don’t include the twenty dollar bill from the one person who recognized him as Joshua Bell, the world-class violinist who played to a packed house at Boston’s Symphony Hall just three days earlier where tickets sold for as much as $100.

Bell’s subway concert was staged by the Washington Post as a social experiment.  Why would some pay big bucks to hear Joshua Bell play at a concert while others would not even pay attention to hear him play for free at a subway station?

We assign a value to what we pay for — or don’t pay for. In the words of Thomas Paine: “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only that gives everything its value.”

Are you listening?

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