2007 April 07 Saturday
Joshua Bell Plays A DC Metro Subway Station

Virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell (did you see the movie Red Violin? that was him playing) played classical violin pieces in a Washington DC Metro subway station during morning rush for three quarters of an hour. He played some of the most difficult and greatest violin pieces ever composed. Over 1000 people walked past him. How many stopped? How much did he get paid? Guess. Read the piece. I don't want to tell you.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2007 April 07 04:50 PM  Culture Appreciation

John S Bolton said at April 7, 2007 11:57 PM:

That is one embarassingly poor response from our officials.
It is, though, good indication of what factors select for pushing people into bureaucracy:
crippled faculties of attention, focus and alertness,
indifference or hatred relative to human merit,
extreme defect of emotional and evaluative range,
and a truncated connection to the world around them, which makes them unfit for jobs requiring attention and reaction as if the events in their environment were really happening.
More power to them?

Bartelson said at April 8, 2007 2:41 PM:

This doesn't tell us much. I'm sure everyone considered him "yet another nut" looking for attention. In modern America, they would almost certainly be correct.

Quequeg said at April 9, 2007 12:18 AM:

Beautiful article, too. Glad, I took the time to read this article about people walking swiftly past the roses.

But I'm not surprised that most commuters didn't linger in a subway station during rush hour in order to listen to classical music.

After all, people are in a "rush". There are penalties for being late. And they haven't planned for a lot of leisure time in their commutes. (I wonder what would happen if Joshua Bell disguised himself more thoroughly and then played for a number of days in a row. Would people leave home a little earlier and doddle a little longer at the metro?)

The shoe-shine lady said:
"If something like this happened in Brazil, everyone would stand around to see. Not here."

I think it would make sense that in Brazil people would hang around, because puntuality is not as important in Latin America as it in the U.S.

Also, classical music is a bit of an acquired taste. Most of the metro people who really enjoyed the free concert had studied music before (e.g. the restaurant employee who played guitar...the man who had practiced to be a concert violinist...the woman on the coffee break who played violin as a child). Afficionados have generally made some pre-investment of time to appreciate classical music, let alone notice the difference between great and pretty-good renditions. Yet, dispite their pre-investment, lovers of classical music are often perplexed that others don't share their passion. The following is from the man who practiced to be a concert violinist: "Yeah, other people just were not getting it. It just wasn't registering. That was baffling to me."

So, there are probably people who walked by Joshua Bell on that day, who do generally take the time to appreciate beauty, but just not during rush hour and not for classic music.

Yet, I liked the article, including the part about how were so busy.

We're busy. Americans have been busy, as a people, since at least 1831, when a young French sociologist named Alexis de Tocqueville visited the States and found himself impressed, bemused and slightly dismayed at the degree to which people were driven, to the exclusion of everything else, by hard work and the accumulation of wealth.

Not much has changed. Pop in a DVD of "Koyaanisqatsi," the wordless, darkly brilliant, avant-garde 1982 film about the frenetic speed of modern life. Backed by the minimalist music of Philip Glass, director Godfrey Reggio takes film clips of Americans going about their daily business, but speeds them up until they resemble assembly-line machines, robots marching lockstep to nowhere. Now look at the video from L'Enfant Plaza, in fast-forward. The Philip Glass soundtrack fits it perfectly.
It reminds me of this website: www.WorkToLive.info. At this site, one poster lamented a beautiful, summer, mid-week day in a park with nobody there, with boats just floating waiting to be used.

John Maynard Keynes predicted that by the end of the 20th century, we would be working 15-hour work weeks. But it seems like we work just as much, even though we're more productive.
http://www.worktolive.info/poen_vaca_worl.cfm (vacation time by country)

Fred said at April 9, 2007 6:45 AM:

I found this an interesting and well-written article. However, I have a reservation similar to that expresssed by the commentor above. This experiment was sited at a subway station during the morning commute. This seems to be stacking the odds in favor of a certain outcome.

It is highly unlikely that people would build into their morning commute schedule an extra 20 minutes so that, should they happen across something remarkable, they could stop and absorb themselves in it. I strongly suspect that, under these circumstances, I wouldn't stop and listen either. But on a different day, or at a different time, I very well might.

It would be interesting to conduct the same experiment in a park on a Sunday afternoon. Does anyone doubt that the results would be quite different?

Tim said at April 10, 2007 11:02 AM:

I'd have to agree with Fred and the tatooed sailor guy who shipped out with Gergory Peck. I use the NY subways frequently, but they are obviously not designed to for ease of listening to or playing music. In some places the ceilings are pretty low, there are narrow corridors, construction work, the people and the trains can be pretty loud, etc... I am sure that I have probably been within a few yards of really great musicians, but I couldn't see or hear them. I've never used the DC subway system, but I can't imagine that conditions are that much better for musicians, but maybe I'm wrong. Now if this guy was to set up in Grand Central or even Union Station in DC, I have no doubt he would draw a crowd. The acoustics are much bettyer and there is more space to actually see and hear. Does anybody plan for leisure time in their work commutes? I certainly don't.

Bob said at March 25, 2011 6:36 AM:

Being a "johnny-come-lately" I too agree with Fred but the questions were: In a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context? In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend? No one doubts that in another setting at a more convient time the results would be different, maybe. But sticking with the original premis, why do we choose to miss so much of the beauty that is placed in our paths?

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