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April 10, 2007


Pearls Before Breakfast - washingtonpost.com :: joshua bell, master violinist plays as busker :: great article + videos (thanks hipster)

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Comments (17)

I had blogged this too, and someone left me a comment with a link to a different interpretation of the experiment.


Agree or not, the Washington Post article is still quite good.

Posted by: Nico at April 10, 2007 12:13 PM

There everywhere. Super talented people in conspicuous places hiding in plain sight.

Posted by: IfGod wereoneofus at April 10, 2007 1:00 PM

When I finished reading it my first thought was that the average moron wouldn't know beauty if it bit him in the ass. But on reflection, maybe it's as Leithauser's points out - context matters. Everyone that rushed by that day might not have been morons, just busy.

Of course then it goes back to the original premise of the experiment - trying to judge the observers apprication of the work by counting the money he made. How do you put a monetary value on beauty or joy? More importantly, should you? I understand in this society we equate monetary success with "success" in general - but should we?

Oh well, once again, a well written and thought provoking find. Too complex to be summed up in a limited blog post - that I have abused once again, with my rambling.


Posted by: BlakNyte at April 10, 2007 1:28 PM

As I've mulled over this since I read the article, I certainly don't think the money represents the entertainment. Some folks put in money who don't listen, some folks listen who don't put in money.

The lack of attention was more bothersome, but as you said, context is important.

That said, if some of those folks could have stepped out of their routine for a few moments, they would have been amply rewarded for the 'lost' time.

Posted by: girlie_sportsracer at April 10, 2007 2:32 PM

it's rare that something this cool happens in dc.
pissed to have missed it live...but glad to get a virtual taste. thanks for the link.

Posted by: sara at April 10, 2007 2:52 PM

Yep. We're all headed to hell in a handbasket, I tell you. Priorities!!!

Posted by: rebecca at April 10, 2007 11:14 PM

I would have stopped for the duration then empties my wallet, save the metro fair

Posted by: vivaldi at April 10, 2007 11:48 PM

I heard about this on NPR this morning. It's a great story, but only 7 people stopped! Can people really not tell the difference between a top-tier musician and common subway performers? His violin is valued at $3,000,000! (And I love that he played Bach's Gavotte en Rondeau, as that's a favorite of mine.)

Posted by: Rocco at April 11, 2007 12:38 AM

I see musicians in the NYC subway all the time, and sometimes they're pretty darn good. I've wished I could stop and listen plenty of times, but usually traveling is fraught with time crunches.

Because Bell got the same reaction that the average busker would get, it's clear that the quality of the music isn't the key, it's the context.

Posted by: Lhyzz at April 11, 2007 11:42 AM

I interpret this as Washingtonians who are too harried to think about anything but their jobs and getting paid. Having grown up there though, I'm really not surprised...I don't want to go back there, much less even think of raising kids there. It's a pretty pathetic place; given all the cultural advantages and treasures around them, most Washingtonians pretty much ignore them.

Sad, so very sad. But then again how many of us really are paying attention to the things in life besides work bills and money?

"We are grown stiff with the ramrod of convention down our backs. We pass on; and some day we come, at the end of a very dull life, to reflect that our romance has been a pallid thing of a marriage or two, a satin rosette kept in a safe-deposit drawer, and a lifelong feud with a steam radiator."
-O. Henry "The Green Door"

The Vault

Posted by: VDO Vault at April 11, 2007 2:18 PM

Painful to read; really painful. People are too busy to "stop and smell the roses"; ironically, many of the same people who passed by and missed a "free" opportunity to hear Bell would be some of the same people who would pay $50 or more on a ticket to see him at the Hollywood Bowl or some other concert venue. PEOPLE: TAKE THE EARPHONES OFF AND EXPERIENCE LIFE!

Posted by: Dave at April 11, 2007 2:59 PM

My father is a street violinist in Ocean City, Maryland, and he's going to get a huge kick out of this article. It's a tough crowd, but someone's got to play to it. As for the article, excellent concept, excellent treatment. Well done, Washington Post. Well done, Joshua bell.

Posted by: Jordan Hassay at April 12, 2007 12:10 PM

It does seem truly unthinkable that Joshua Bell (and Bach's Chaconne) would be passed by so casually. Perhaps the folks in Washington DC have an overabundance of culture around them that such things become commonplace. But . . . how could anything so remarkable become merely a background to scarfing a frappucino and waiting for the 10:18?

Posted by: Kimberlyesque at April 13, 2007 10:06 PM

I'd like to think that there'd be that one person whose ears were tuned just right who would take that morning off work and hide behind where he's playing there just to listen. Then miss a chance at that promotion or an important phone call. Hmmm, people don't pull Jerry McGuires' for good reasons.

Posted by: M.J. Devlin at April 15, 2007 3:02 PM

Another take on this experiment by a young professional musician from his blog:


Posted by: R.Roberts at April 17, 2007 9:41 AM

As it turns out, Joshua Bell is coming to my school next year.
And, I think, after having a long look at this article, I'm so interested in the guy that I'll pick up a ticket, even with such a base knowledge of classical music.

Posted by: Noah/Gg at April 18, 2007 2:22 AM

I have played violin street music for 30 years, as well as playing in symphony with Joshua Bell as Soloist. The issue was not Mr. Bell, but it was the people he was trying to connect to. He was playing the wrong music ... If he wanted to connect. Had he played the theme to Titanic, he would have stopped folks in their tracks an made grown men cry. You have to connect with music that people know, like, and can identify, and self involve themselves in. If you are trying to plug into people, they have to have a socket to plug into, and you need the right number of prongs...

Posted by: Bill hassay at March 4, 2010 10:29 PM

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