This is Amazing

The Washington Post and Joshua Bell did a little experiment at a D.C. subway station.  The idea was to find out if commuters would notice one of the world’s best violinists, playing on one of history’s best violins, performing some of the best music ever written.

The answer:  A resounding, no.

Nobody noticed.



4 Responses to “This is Amazing”

  1. 1 courtney April 9, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    I realize that as a classical musician, I’m biased, but how could people fail to notice how much better Josh Bell sounds than most street musicians? Not only that, but the man is quite something to look at. You’d think that might get some attention. This is very sad.

  2. 2 Matt April 11, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    This is such an interesting article. I think it’s more about context — what did these people expect to hear? Classical music falls to the background, no matter how well it’s played, when you hear it in a subway station (and by you, I mean most people, not classical musicians themselves). How many tips would Josh Bell have received if he’d played Misty, or America the Beautiful? If he were playing something that those 1000 people knew, would they have been more likely to acknowledge his talent?

    Even then, I’m not sure — when I watch American Idol with my non-musician boyfriend, we have very different ideas about who’s obviously good and bad. Although we agree about Sanjaya.

    Last question: do people tip for talent, or for need? Does a clean, neatly-dressed and well-fed young white man inspire us to tip as much as an impoverished-looking older black man? When we tip, do we tip because they’re good, or because they’re trying to make a buck and need it more than we do?

  3. 3 miriam April 11, 2007 at 8:22 pm

    I used to busk in Penn Station while waiting for my bus back to Jersey after lessons at school in the city. The (mostly) businesspeople were so awesomely generous, but they were a captive and already bored audience.

    We busked the heck out of every summer in Aspen, but I suppose people visiting there at least know about the festival infiltrating the town. John Denver once gave me 20 bucks (Dude, yes, I am that old.)

    One more- there was always a dude at Grand Central with a rickety old violin who played exclusively classical stuff and appeared to do so for a living, and an erhu-ist camped out under 66th/Bway for years.

    I guess the premise of this article assumes JB doesn’t have to sell what he does because he’s JB.

  4. 4 Kitty April 11, 2007 at 9:03 pm

    Yeah, I don’t think the point of the experiment was to gauge JB’s busking skills, I think the point was to see how many people will notice when they are in the presence of something truly beautiful.

    I have been thinking about this a lot, and what I really took away from this article as the sense that we should all be more mindful of the beauty occurring all around us. I think that I would have noticed Joshua Bell, but hell, I’m a professional musician. What if it had been Claude Monet, painting down in the Metro? Would I have noticed him?- I seriously doubt it.

    I am left wondering how many times I have walked right by something extraordinary.

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