Joshua Bell playing incognito—nobody cared!

said: Apr 14, 2007
 104 posts

Here is a link to the story in the Washington Post describing an “experiment” they set up. Joshua Bell played his $3.5 million Strad in the Washington DC Metro terminal as an anonymous “street musician” and hardly anyone stopped or noticed. He put out his case to collect money and in one hour, he collected less than $40. He played some of the most difficult violin repertoire but over one thousand commuters passed by without giving him a glance. The only people who stopped or even turned their heads to look were either a) children (who, sadly, were dragged away by their parents) or b) people who had studied violin as children.

There is video included. It’s very thought-provoking.

Laura said: Apr 14, 2007
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

A friend sent me that article and I was both saddened and intrigued.

I believe there is no easy explanation because so many factors were at play. I wonder if the results would have been any different if he had been playing, for example, at a park or an open-air market. People in the middle of their daily commutes tend to have very little inclination or desire to focus on anything beyond themselves. They’re late for work, they’re thinking about an upcoming meeting, they’re rushing home for dinner before an evening engagement, they are thinking about tomorrow’s agenda, or what have you.

But still, I can’t ignore the fact that something very real happened (or didn’t happen) there. Is there genuinely less appreciation for classical music, no matter how sublimely performed? If so, that’s the sad part.

Kirsten said: Apr 14, 2007
 103 posts

We are so used to constant sound that I think we tune it out to protect our ears and sanity.

We have a new grocery store in town that plays no “musac” for people to listen to at all. They don’t even play classical music, and it is so refreshing! It is such a wonderful thing to be able to enjoy the quiet hum of the refrigeration instead of sound I am forced to listen to all of the time. How come other people are always choosing our music for us?

I can see how the constant imput of sound in our environment could cause the average person to tune out even the extraordinary and the beautiful. The poor ears say “go away” to everything.


Jennifer Visick said: Apr 15, 2007
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1076 posts

When I first read that story I was intrigued—and I foolishly allowed myself to indulge in a little self-congratulatory fantasy: had I been there, I would have recognized him, would have gotten his autograph, would have complimented him, would have (somehow) had my viola with me and would have dropped whatever I was doing and asked him if he knew the mozart violin/viola duets and would he be willing to play them with me?, and we would have have serenaded the unknowing masses together. Now wouldn’t that be a story to tell my grandchildren….

Then I came back to reality and acknowledged that if I were in the new york metro I probably would have had an iPod in my ears too. I give myself a 50 percent chance of recognizing him, and I wouldn’t have given him any money (especially not if I recognized him—I would know he didn’t need it!). I may have stopped to listen—”stopped to smell the roses” so to speak—but that doesn’t mean I would have stuck around till he was done. I probably would have been on my way to somewhere else. And hey—that somewhere else may have been worth missing his metro performance (or, it may not have been—we’ll never know, will we? There ARE other worthwhile things in the world besides great violin playing. Bach is a worthy place to spend time, but his work is not the ONLY worthy place to spend time). And let’s face it: A concert hall or the quiet and comfort of my living room (with his CD on the stereo) IS a much better place to enjoy musical skill than a metro station.

Still, I just might pause in my stride a little longer than usual the next time I pass a street musician.

said: Apr 15, 2007
 104 posts

I found it heartbreaking—the fact that our lives are such that we don’t notice and don’t care about ANYTHING around us—music, flowers, animals, etc.

It’s not that I think I would have recognized Bell in such a setting ( I once sat next to Al and Tipper Gore at a DC comedy club and thought to myself—”oh, pretty lady, kind of looks like Tipper Gore” and then kicked myself when they were introduced at the end of the show). Context is everything. In rush hour, in a hurry, most of us would pass right by. It makes me sad to think of how many treasures we DO pass by every day.

Finally, I also thought to myself, what if an incognito Britney or some other pop culture phenom did the same thing? I wish the Washington Post would run that experiment.

BTW, my kids have played spontaneously in public places (if it’s a warm day, we’ll stop somewhere on the way to our lesson to play for passers-by) but we’ve had quite the opposite response—because they are children and we live in a mid-size town, people often do stop—people in cars will actually roll their windows down and slow down to listen. People will clap and gather to listen. And last time, three sanitation workers stopped their route to listen and then applaud! So—maybe there is hope yet for the street musicians of America!

Laura said: Apr 16, 2007
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

I’m guessing it would be different for Britney or any other pop-culture icon. The reason is because part of their star status is how they look, what they are wearing, how they move, how they behave in public, etc. They are constantly hiding from paparazzi because they are so instantly recognized. They don’t have to sing a note to generate attention.

In this society, anyway, Joshua Bell and the like are far less visibly recognizable, and are also known for an art form which is almost purely appreciated for the sound alone. OK, the fact that he’s good looking probably doesn’t hurt… but classical musicians don’t get ANYWHERE without first working their butts off their whole lives to play phenomenally. Sex-symbol antics and daily gossip are much less a part of the package than they are with pop stars.

There are only a very small handful of pop stars I would appreciate listening to regardless of their appearance, physical actions, or latest scoop on Entertainment Tonight. Whitney Houston, Diana Krall, and maybe one or two others come to mind (I have to really think about it!). The rest, I believe, sell themselves on much more beyond singing talent alone.

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