Genius in the Subway.

Internationally-known violinist Joshua Bell played busker at a Metro station in Washington, DC during morning rush hour recently. It was an experiment to see if anyone would recognize him, recognize the talent behind the music, or would drop money in his case. What do you think happened? The results may surprise you. The cover story in today’s Washington Post Magazine includes videos of the experiment. Link -via Grow-A-Brain

The music is nothing particular in the video. Maybe if I would have listened to it in person I would have noticed... but just with the video I would say he was some sort of amateur.

One way or another I wont be able to hear the beauty of this instrument being played by this guy... not enough money to go see his concerto or his street performance.
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I disagree. Even with the poor sound quality of the video you can hear that Bell's tone is much fuller and richer than that of an amateur violinist's. You can also tell that his technique is impeccable --- those Bach pieces on the videos are amongst the most technically difficult in the repertoire. Most amateur violinists will blat wrong notes in those pieces. Bell's phrasing is also much more polished. I suppose if people haven't been exposed much to classical music it might not be surprising that they can't identify real quality.
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What's funny is that if a bunch of kids with 5 gallon paint buckets were banging out some beats, they would have earned a couple hundred bucks and had a huge crowd.

I used to see it all the time in Chicago, where some excellent classical wind and string instrument players would play from time to time in Grant Park, and never turn heads.

It's also a matter of taste. How many Americans get truly excited over classical music? It's usually meant as a medium to relax the listener, something that most commuters don't seek when they're in a hurry.
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I think this experiment shows how subjective "celebrity" is. Granted, most people probably would not recognize Joshua Bell if they ran into him in a subway station... but enough have probably heard of him, and at least know that he is a famous violinist.

Had there been a large banner over his head, proclaiming, "Now appearing - Joshua Bell!", I would suspect that a larger crowd would have gathered - simply because it was Joshua Bell, the Famous Violinist, rather than some random-yet-talented busker.
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NEWSFLASH!!! People on their way to work might not have time to really appreciate great works of classical music. I can't believe the author of this article is so amazed by this. Before the morning coffee I could probably walk right past the reanimated, reunited Beatles, Coltrane or Mozart himself and it would only very faintly register on my preconcious mind.

Also NEWSFLASH!!!, some people listen to iPods to avoid the usual subways noise of panhandlers, bad street musicians, overly loud annoucing speakers and tourists who can't modulate to an "indoor" voice. Does this prove they're missing out on the finer things in life? Personally I don't think so, but the author somehow equates headphones with corporate zombieism so, who knows.

Sometimes they put reproductions of great paintings or sculpture in the subway as well and they get about the same level of appreciation. People just don't stand enraptured at the Art. Does this mean that we have lost all appreciation of beauty? I doubt it.
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Might be that the internet and tv have ruined my ability to read (not being a native speaker might also be a bit of a handicap), but is it just me or is that Washington Post article a mess? I found it pretty much unreadable and just skipped to the part where it mentioned the peoples reactions... way to drag a story and stop changing the subject all the time!
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What a long and BORING article. It read like spam with a little snobbery thrown in.

It said there was some kind of MORAL decision one would have to make to stop and listen to this fellow.

Never heard of the "genius musician" - are you just suppose to recognize genius music and drop everything to listen?

I agree: very pompous.
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I've never been to a concert. I can't tell well-played classical music from an amateur playing it. Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi--I can't tell the difference. It all sounds the same to me. I have three CDs worth of classical music on my iPod, often skipped. That is the extent of my knowledge concerning this sort of thing.

I like to think I would have stayed and listened, but I probably wouldn't have.
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Geez, that article took it's sweet time getting to the point. I think they could have cut it by 75% and still hit all the main points. Were they just trying to fill space, or what?
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This article made me cry. My late husband was a classical musician, and we often talked about the futility of trying to reach "the masses" with sublime music that truly, if someone listens, can make life worth living. Oblivious to art, these folks don't know what they are missing.
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Loved the article - well written, with plenty of background and Very Suspenseful!! I thought it ironic that the reporters/journalists' plans and planning didn't work out as they thought - people are just too busy to get outside themselves for a nanosecond (except for the children) and most people don't recognize genius or talent when its four feet from them. I don't know if I would have stopped, either, my commute doesn't leave too many minutes of buffer to stop and enjoy. We walk by roses and don't take a second to smell them.
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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.
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