Thursday, July 5, 2007

Big Time Busker

I suspect this story made the rounds a few months ago, but if it did, I missed it, and it bears retold by Janet Ward Black in comments she made upon her installation as president of the North Carolina Bar Association in June 2007:

It is January 12th of this year -- a Friday. It is ten minutes before 8 o'clock in the morning. It is Enfant Plaza Metro station in Washington, D. C. A young man, dressed in blue jeans and a baseball cap, removes his violin from its case. He places the empty case by his feet. He throws a few dollars and some change into the open violin case as seed money.

The young man begins to play his violin that January morning. He plays for the next 43 minutes. According to the Washington Post reporter present, he is passed by 1,097 commuters. Almost no one stops to listen to him play. The exceptions are primarily a few children who try to stop and listen, but they are invariably pulled away by a parent anxious to get on to life's next activity. The young man plays Bach, Brahms, and even Shubert's Ave Maria-- some of the most exquisite music ever written for the violin.

The young man is Joshua Bell, who, just a few days later, will be awarded the Avery Fisher prize as the best classical musician in America, and who, shortly before, had played to a sold-out crowd at the Library of Congress. The violin he plays is a Stradivarius worth a reported $3.5 million dollars.

Joshua Bell and the Washington Post orchestrated this experiment to see whether D.C. commuters would stop, or even slow down, to hear one of the best musicians on earth, playing some of the best music ever written, on one of the best violins ever made.

Only seven people stopped for at least sixty seconds -- seven people out of 1,097. One of the seven recognized Bell. Most of the rest were the children. He collected $32.17 in donations during those 43 minutes.

A couple of other quotes from Black's address:

Che Guevara, wrote in a letter to his children: "Above all, always be able to feel deeply any injustice committed against anyone anywhere in the world."


Horace Mann, the American educator, said: "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity."

[UPDATE - Thanks to anonymous for the link to the Saw Lady's Blog, from a virtuoso saw player who busks in NYC. The Saw Lady addresses the Joshua Bell experiment which triggered dozens of interesting comments.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Street performing is an art form all of its own - explains that in retort to the Joshua Bell story.