Not Your Average Street Musician:
The Sunday Washington Post had this very interesting story (with video) about what happens when a world class violist (Joshua Bell) plays at a DC metro station incognito. Answer: not very much. Thanks to Josh Marshall for the link.
Nate F (www):
Wow. Great article. Not surprising if you've spent a lot of time in Washington, though.
4.9.2007 12:23pm
Zathras (mail):
He's probably not the first world class musician to do this either.
4.9.2007 12:32pm
Colin (mail):
That's a wonderful article. I think you need a little bit more spectacle to break commuters' strides, though. There was a great jazz act that used to play sometimes on downtown Red Line stops in Chicago, usually at Jackson. I think it was more or less impromptu; a couple of PVC bucket drummers, a guitarist or bassist, and a tap dancer. Not world-class anything, but they drew a larger crowd and pulled more donations, probably because they put a lot of energy into the station (without being obnoxious).

Or maybe Cubs fans are just better human beings...
4.9.2007 12:52pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
The saddest part is the little girl in the pink coat, who desperately wants to stop and watch. But her father just keeps going.
4.9.2007 12:58pm
Sub silentio submitter (mail):
Of course, the experiment was set up at the morning rush hour when people are rushing to work. And for government employees with their rigid hours and leave system, few want to be even a few minutes late. There's not a lot of flexibility to stop and listen. Maybe if they had set this up in the evening, after work, they would have had a larger response.
4.9.2007 1:00pm
Allen G:
Is that Bach he's playing? I'd have stopped after hearing those perfectly in-tune double-stops.
4.9.2007 1:19pm
Gabriel Malor (mail):
I have to second those who mention what a great article this is. I hope someone is getting credit for a great idea with great execution.

As far as stopping to listen, I must confess, I would probably be just like the fellow with the iPod. "Wha? There was a musician?"
4.9.2007 1:27pm
Houston Lawyer:
It is a basic urban coping instinct to disregard those who would attempt to make a personal connection with you during your commute. Even those who are not obviously living on the street will often try to put a touch on you for something. Therefore, this result is not the least surprising.
4.9.2007 1:30pm
GW law student:
I grew up in NYC and rode the subway to high school. There are two main factors at work here.

First, it was the morning as other posters mentioned. Even in NYC, a subway musician won't get much traffic.

Second, it is DC. This is significant. If you ever ride the subway in NYC, you'll see places where musicians are playing. In the evening, particularly at Penn Station when commuters are waiting for the LIRR or NJ Transit, you'll see groups of people standing and listening to musicians. When I was there recently, my 2 1/2 year old son was fascinated so we watched for a few minutes. He then ran up and gave a couple of dollars.

This is a big difference between DC and NYC. DC has no soul, no personality. You walk along the streets here and you don't feel the life of the city.
4.9.2007 1:48pm
was 1st chair, now 1L:
Damn, wish he'd come to a different stop...
4.9.2007 2:02pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
I mention on my blog that while I lived in Germany I used to practice my tenor sax in the U-Bahn, and I'm pretty sure that my humble (very humble) practice routine got more audience response than Bell's recital. Whatever.
4.9.2007 2:12pm
nrein1 (mail):
So no one stopped to listen, the point is? When I am on the metro in the morning, I am going to work, I don't really have time to stop. As to those saying it is somehow DC specific, I ahve question for you (presuming you drive a car) when was the last time you were driving to work and saw something so interesting you decided to take a detour and go look at it? I'd imagine for the majority of you never.
4.9.2007 2:17pm
WHOI Jacket:
The point is that those silly people who had jobs to be at should just have stopped and listened to the music.

That being said, I'd have loved to have been there myself.
4.9.2007 2:37pm
eddie (mail):
Am I the only one annoyed by the article's overbearing, condescending assumption that we should be surprised (and perhaps a bit ashamed) that almost nobody was instantly enraptured at the sound of "the best classical musician in America"? How surprising is it that people are busy during rush hour? What I'm surprised at is that Emily Shroder, Rachel Manteuffel, John W. Poole and Magazine Editor Tom Shroder got paid for writing 7500 words where a couple of sentences would have sufficed.
4.9.2007 2:42pm
<i>When I am on the metro in the morning, I am going to work, I don't really have time to stop.</i>

Perhaps that's the real point of the article - that "some" of us have become so obsessive about every minute that we can't spare even a few seconds for what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Nobody questions that you're in a hurry and don't have time to stop; that's obvious. But isn't worthwhile to ask WHY you're in such a rush that you can't even stop for a free, world-class virtuoso performance, or even notice when one is occurring right in front of your face?
4.9.2007 2:52pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"But isn't worthwhile to ask WHY you're in such a rush that you can't even stop for a free, world-class virtuoso performance, or even notice when one is occurring right in front of your face?"


Aside from this, even accepting the notion that one is in a hurray, are we all so busy that even 60 seconds or so is too much to spare?

What happens if you get to your desk at 9:01 instead of 9:00? Do you blow up or something?
4.9.2007 2:58pm
Sub silentio submitter (mail):
No, you don't blow up. But for many low- and mid-level government workers under the inflexible government time system, your boss may get you in trouble, you may have a negative review entered, or you may be docket a half an hour of leave time. People are in the zone about getting to work in the morning.
4.9.2007 3:03pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"your boss may get you in trouble, you may have a negative review entered, or you may be docket a half an hour of leave time."

For one minute? Sheesh.
4.9.2007 3:09pm
Jake (Guest):
In addition to the problems with the setting noted above, they put on a performance with an instrument that most people don't listen to often (or at all), and deliberately avoided songs that people might recognize. And they're surprised when busy people don't stop to listen?

I don't really buy their premise that having a taste for classical music marks one out as a better person. The violinist in the article came off like a decent guy, but the praise lavished on him started to grate ("At twelve years of age, he calmed a raging tiger with the pure beauty of his music... When he approaches primitive tribes and plays Bach, they revere him as a minor deity... The beauty of his music is such that he was almost able to retrieve his beloved pet goldfish from the underworld, but he was unable to resist the temptation to turn and see if it was following...").
4.9.2007 3:28pm
For one minute? Sheesh
I could spare the minute but would probably continue on my way like the others. I will have plenty of time to listen to music later. I might even hear Joshua Bell on WBJC while driving home from the station. Do we all have to stop what we are doing because an artist is performing?
4.9.2007 3:28pm
Steve Donohue (mail) (www):
How many would have stopped for the Rolling Stones?
4.9.2007 3:32pm
nrein1 (mail):
Couple of more things, he made 32 bucks in 45 minutes. Seemed like enough people appreciated what he was doing. I also question the assumption that no one was listening to him. I do not where he was set up exactly, but I know when I am at Dupont Circle there is sometimes a person playing at the top of the escalator. I listen for about a minute or so on the ride up but don't stop to listen at the top, I am still listening though.
4.9.2007 3:39pm

Or maybe Cubs fans are just better human beings...

Well, they'd have to be, wouldn't they? ;^)
4.9.2007 3:49pm
Emmett (mail) (www):
NB, Joshua Bell is a violinist, not a violist - although the viola is clearly the superior instrument!
4.9.2007 4:17pm
Marc in Eugene (mail) (www):
Bach's Chaconne, Schubert's Ave Maria etc are 'deliberately unrecognisable'? Hmm.

The saddest observation that Weingarten makes is that the only group of people all of whom noticed/listened were the children--whose parents without exception carried them on without stopping. I suppose they all were on their way to the child carers and then to work. If 'beauty will save the world' I have not much hope for government bureaucrats in D.C.
4.9.2007 5:08pm
I've seen Joshua Bell live twice and I have his CD in my car.

I may/may not have stopped depending on my schedule. This article, while interesting, doesn't present new information. People are busy.
4.9.2007 5:09pm
Sarah L.:
Hey, Emmett, why do violists stand outside people's houses all night? Because they can't find the key and they don't know when to come in. And, hey, Emmett, why do people instantly hate the viola? Because it saves time. And, Emmett, did you hear about the violist who claimed he knew how to play 64th notes? The violinists didn't believe him, so he played one to prove it.

I got a lot more where these come from....but yeah, Joshua Bell is DEFINITELY not a violist!
4.9.2007 5:35pm
ed o:
classical musicians and symphonies are usually subsidized by the taxpayers with the folks in attendance in the tuxes being wealthy themselves. might it pass through the minds of anyone that the backwards rabble might not like classical music or give a damn about what this guy is doing? I don't stop and listen to every street corner preacher or pot banger in downtown Chicago while on the way to work-it's because I'm on my way to work
4.9.2007 5:44pm
mike (mail):
There is a great response to the Joshua Bell article by a NYC subway musician in her blog:
She interprets the situation differently from the Washington Post reporters... I thought you might find it interesting.
4.9.2007 6:46pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Almost 30 years ago, I spent a summer busking in Paris. I could easily make 100 francs an hour. That's close to Bell's $32 in real terms, and quite a bit more if you adjust for inflation. I would also get people, and sometimes groups of people to stop and listen.

I wasn't particularly good at the time, and I could only dream about getting anywhere near as good as Bell. I did learn that there is much more to making money in the Subway than playing well. But I think Bell would have caused much more of a fuss with this stunt just about anywhere in Europe.

If I had been fortunate enough to be on there, I would definitely have stopped to have listened to Bell. I have several of his CDs, and have seen him perform live once (tickets were about $140/pr.)
4.9.2007 7:00pm
Emmett (mail) (www):
Such scorn for the viola, Sarah.... Too bad the likes of Mozart didn't share it, though.
4.9.2007 8:29pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Mozart showed his astute appreciation of the qualities of the viola by writing no works for solo viola, no viola sonatas, and no viola concertos.

Here's the definitive word on Mozart's Opera: The Magic Viola
4.9.2007 9:32pm
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
I can move one eyebrow, one nostril and one ear simultaneously. Not only that, but I do so with unbelievable grace and skill. It's taken me years to perfect this artform, and I daresay I can do it better than any other person on the face of the earth. Sometimes I do it in public, just to see if other people will recognize my stunning mastery and shower me with adulation. Strangely enough, though, nobody ever seems to. Damned Philistines...
4.9.2007 9:48pm
Glad some of you could my subtle viola joke. (Ok, just a typo, really. In general, better to e-mail me than to leave it in the comment thread.)
4.9.2007 11:13pm
I wonder what percentage of people in this country listen to classical music on a regular basis. It may correlate to the number of people who stopped listened/donated.
4.10.2007 10:12am
ed o:
of course, the children recognized the beauty, innocents that they are. on the other hand, if there were a dead bird on the platform, the same child would poke it with a stick to annoy their parents.
4.10.2007 10:31am
Ignorance is Bliss:
A local newscast ran a segment on this performance. After the segment, one of the anchors commented on how beautiful the music was. The other responded with 'Yeah, there are a lot of talented street musicians'. She totally missed the point that Joshua Bell was way beyond a talented street musician.
4.10.2007 10:50am
recent DC visitor:
I agree with the above posters who said people mostly need to get to work. I just recently saw a small band set up at Dupont Circle on Saturday about 5-8, and dozens of people stopped and watched. Sax, horns, bass, and drum, and a small kid (maybe 7?) on tuba.

Dozens of people danced, stayed for pretty long stretches, gave money, etc. I'm sure most of them would not have done so on the way to work.

And for those who asked what would happen if you got there late -- not only are some bosses or organizations sticklers, but many of us have client meetings or court appearances every morning. "I'm sorry, your honor, but the street musician was really good. I think he was a pro, really."

Or people in DC are just sick of violins in the streets.
4.10.2007 12:14pm
Kurt2 (mail):
But I think Bell would have caused much more of a fuss with this stunt just about anywhere in Europe.

Maybe. But in yesterday's Post chat with the author, someone commented that a similar experiment took place in Belgium, with similar results.
4.10.2007 12:28pm