What are you missing as you rush through life? It was another cold Friday morning. Much like today. A fiddler played next to a bare wall during the commuting rush at a Washington DC Metro Station. For the next three-quarters of an hour, he played 6 Bach pieces while nearly 2,000 people walked past. Only six people stopped to listen and when he was done, there was silence. How much did he collect? $32.17.
Little did they know that this was Joshua Bell, world renowned musician, who had packed the halls of the Boston Symphony just days before (average cost, $100). He was playing some of the most intricate pieces written, on a $3.5 million instrument.
This story by the Washington Post won a Pulitzer prize: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html
Shouldn’t you stop and hear the music?
Isn’t that the truth… we seem to get caught up in the stream of life and forget to stop and hear the music, smell the roses, enjoy the moments… sad, but true, and we are all guilty of it from time to time…
and like Kimberly Brosnan I think I would have stopped… I love the street musicians, even when they are not famous!!
Interesting that L’Enfant Plaza is at the heart of federal Washington, and most commuters are mid-level bureaucrats: well-off, educated, and likely to have purchased pricey tickets to listen to Bell at the Symphony. 🙂
You’re tired, or wired on coffee, or both; late for work; mind already gearing up for the morning assembly or the first meetings of the day. Jostling with crowds, mind still into the pocket-book or newspaper you read on the train.
Needless to say, you do not have the spare cognitive capacity to pick out and appreciate all the barely perceptible subtleties of a master musician playing a very intricate piece. And without all those subtleties and all the details the piece will tend to fall apart. Somebody listening to it at a concert, on the other hand, is focusing all their attention, all their brain power towards that performance, without any distractions or other concerns.
I am willing to bet that the same musician playing Waltzing Matilda would have netted much more appreciation and much more money, simply because the piece would have been clear enough to be picked up by minds very busy focusing on other things.
It is sad that the pace at which we live our lives does not allow us true appreciation of the beauty around us. I know there are many days where I have to make a conscious effort to slow down and enjoy.
This story would have had a different outcome if the “Black Eye’d Peas” were providing the free concert.
On the way in a car ….won’t miss it …it will be playing as I get home …smiling
Mark Noble , or a scantily clad Lady Gaga making a bunch of suggestive moves? 🙂
I wonder if some of the money in the musician’s case was donated by security employees?
Sometimes value is measured by money spent Rajini Rao :))
Many of the commuters may have bought those pricey tickets to his show but they probably just bought em to be seen at the concert.
I work there and passed by that morning – meh. Music in that breezeway is like eating a steak on a garbage pail lid in the alley; not an appropriate time to be waxing dreamily for a more art filled life.
It may also be reflective of the level of music education a lot of those commuters had. If they new classical music they would have noticed that what he was playing was high-level stuff, and playing it well, increasing the likelihood of stopping. Of course, like one of the post mentioned, many of the commuters were probably late, in a hurry.
Norman Robinson and Blair Warner : This excerpt from the article may be of interest: “The musician did not play popular tunes whose familiarity alone might have drawn interest. That was not the test. These were masterpieces that have endured for centuries on their brilliance alone, soaring music befitting the grandeur of cathedrals and concert halls.The acoustics proved surprisingly kind. Though the arcade is of utilitarian design, a buffer between the Metro escalator and the outdoors, it somehow caught the sound and bounced it back round and resonant.”
Lots of reasons why commuters may not have been tuned in..but still, food for thought!
Rajini Rao Thanks for sharing that excerpt.
Have a read of the original article (c2007) they interview some of the commuters afterwards.
Many years ago I was hurrying through the Berkeley BART station on my way to a daylong seminar on the UC campus. It was a cold and dreary winter morning, and I had gotten up early for this, so I was in a grumpy mood. I noticed a small group of musicians playing string instruments. I didn’t stop, but I got to listen to the 3rd movement of the 3rd Brandenburg concerto as I rode the escalator to street level. It totally turned my mood around.
I see the sunset everyday on my way home from work. Sometimes there is a guy playing a guitar by the train station. He sounds good, but I don’t have time to stop and listen. I have priorities as I’m sure these people did. Cooking dinner, cleaning up, taking care of my dogs, etc. Plus I’ve been in a damn suit for 8 hrs I’d like to get home and just relax.
I appreciate the obvious skill of the musician but this is just the wrong place. How about a mall? The food court by my job has a piano player come everyday from 12-2. Its great. There’s a reason he’s not there @ 7 in the morning.
Nice experiment and a really great article! My thought is that the appreciation of skill is a bit inflated. I mean Joshua Bell does not play 10 times better than a musician whose concerts make 10 times less does on a 10 times cheaper violin. When you only hear a few seconds of him in a noisy environment it will be hard to notice that he’s better than the fantastic street musicians you hear every day because the difference in skill is not hundredfold.
First of all, it’s the power of talents marketing and advertising. When a person becomes famous and and be recognized by the mass people will pay attention. They would pay for just for being there watching without expecting much from that talent.
Second, the people who enjoy and appreciate Bach, Vivaldi…are not the majority. That’s why we have pop music which outsell classical music by 100 folds. If Josh Groban or Justin Bieber were there then it’s a different story.
Third, not all educated people are into classical music. May be just a small number of educated people are c m fans.
Fourth, perception. Someone who plays in a public place is called street artist. How many busy people spending their time watching street artists? How much time would you spend watching a fake David Copperfield?
Dániel Darabos It’s not only that. Playing on the street is a separate skill altogether. Street music is a very different venue than a concert hall, and what works in one setting doesn’t necessarily work in another.
While probably only LOOSELY related to the original topic, a T.S. Elliot quote comes to mind: “Where is wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
I feel that if he were still alive, he’d have extended that to “Where is the experience we have lost in activity.”
I second Helen Cooper. Gene Weingarten’s original article, entitled “Pearls before breakfast”, is worth reading. It won him his first Pulitzer prize. You can also read that article and a collection of other features, including another Pulitzer winner, in the book “Fiddler in the Subway.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html
What is the percentage of people that would go see a violinist play anywhere? It’s not a high percentage, I’d wager. This is true for almost all artistic expressions. The majority of the people don’t appreciate them that much. What percentage of the people go to art exhibits? What percentage of the people go to the theatre or the opera? It’s not a high percentage. A cartoonist would draw more of a crowd in a random setting than the best painter in the world.
I expect it may have been better received in the evening. In a formal concert hall substantial part of the crowd may have come to attend due to peer effect.
We also need to develop real taste to be able to make out genuine even when the surroundings don’t tell so!
Biased Experiment. Nobody has time to stop and listen to music when they are on their way to work.
If you played some modern music that is appealing to the masses then people would of stopped. The violin is beautiful but really, who wants to stop and listen to that shit. It is not very entertaining to most. Not hatting on him or the violin but just saying. I like to play the violin as well but would never sit in a subway to play it. Not the right venue my friends. Not surprised at the outcome.
Put the guy to play a lady gaga or pitbull song and you will have a bunch of people watching him… It’s a brilliant musician but placed with the wrong crowd. The fact that many don’t enjoy Bach is not a fault of men but it is a fault of the system that provides us with information.
Dano DeBroux , that was a beautiful TS Elliot quote and extension, thanks! 🙂
I always stop, no matter who plays… thanks for posting.
Sasha Zivanovic Is see what you’re getting at, but quality in the aesthetic sense is not objective, it’s subjective. I reject the idea that any properly educated person would enjoy the music. People like different things.
I think Sasha means that one has to be educated in classical music to appreciate classical music. Certainly, “quality” is subjective. Many would argue, however, that there is quality in Bach’s pieces that has withstood the test of time. What’s surprising about this “experiment” is how few (virtually negligible) people stopped to appreciate Bell. We all agree it would justifiably have been a small number (for all the reasons given above), but the fact that there was barely a handful makes us pause and think about our priorities.
Thank you Rajini Rao.
Wonderful Publication .Wonderful Music.
Have stopped here…( :
Rajini Rao Sasha Zivanovic I do not disagree with you and I appreciate your thoughts.What makes me bristle a bit is – and I’ll overstate the notion for illustrative purposes – the idea that, “The reason no one is stopping is because society is full of tasteless, greedy morons. In a better society more people would stop.” Again, I’m intentionally overstating the idea, but I get tired of wholesale judgments of society like that. It’s not that simple. It’s more complicated than that.
Actually, A. Scott White , the idea is that, “The reason no one is stopping is because we are too busy to pause and appreciate beautiful things in life”. Specifically, the article states: “His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?” I think that overstating the idea takes away from the effectiveness of the message: slow down, stop and hear the music. It is a simple and powerful message and does not label anyone as an ignorant moron, IMO.
Horrifying! The “Chaconne” (partita in d minor) can never be “appreciated” or played well in this environment. Only an amusa masochist would stop to listen to this screeching manic cacophony.
You’re a tough guy to please, John Condliffe 🙂
I’ve had a life-long love affair with J S Bach. Hard to please in music, yes,I want the best. But doesn’t it take one, to know one, Rajini? The comments here show that most people take things at face value and have simply never learned to listen.
I read it some time ago and i think it’s really interesting.
I remember specially 3 points…
1) The man that works in a store close to the ‘concert’ and who said that he inmediately knew he was a professional.
2) The man that hours later answered ‘there was a violinist playing at L’Enfant Plaza’ when someone asked him for something different in his life that day.
3) The woman that clean shoes in front of Joshua Bell playing place and always calls to police when musicians are too noisy. That day Bell was too noisy but she didn’t call to the police.
I think that everybody can recognize a great performance. If they just pay attention for a moment they’ll know how special is that playing
Joan Hogol , May I add to those wonderful recollections one more interesting point that I recall: there was one consistent demographic that stopped to listen. Little children. In all cases, they were pulled away by a busy parent. In one case, the video captures the parent shielding the child from the view so that they could keep on moving.
Perhaps we need to remember what it was like to be a child? 🙂
fascinating! thanks for posting – I will have to share this one.
Rajini Rao to be a child is to feel that everything is new. Ah, and not to be busy except when you write the letter to Santa 🙂
How do they test if your taking time to “smell the roses”?
There was a lovely lady who played violin in the San Francisco Powell Street Muni station in the mid-1980’s. I still remember her.
People can snatch away with them while they are moving (the vid was speeded up, so we can’t see lingering gazes, or someone turning back just to check it out again) impressions/experiences provided by all street musicians. That is what I did for decades in NYC while busily working during the day and attending university at night. The musicians provided a sensual, pleasurable background to a rather hectic routine which to this day I appreciate greatly.
On the weekends I would stand still and be an audience for a longer time. But to say that just because people did not stop physically for five or ten minutes or for the duration of a piece, is not telling how many were affected by the music emotionally or how long they listened while they were moving past Bell, or how many thought, sheesh, I wish I could stop and listen. The measure of if people were affected by his performance is a crude one, that is, if they stopped moving. Multiple tasking anyone?
I love this. Hopefully some of the people who walked by had a better day because of this music. It made me think of the British pop stars Travis and the free jam they did outside Central Station in Newcastle back in October 2004. They did similar stunts up and down the country in aid of a homeless charity. Not really on a par with Joshua Bell but I did go to see them perform once and they were very entertaining.