The Joshua Bell Experiment

Joshua Bell is probably one of the top five, if not top three, living violinists in the entire world. So, what would happen if he set up a busking spot at the top of L’Enfant Plaza Metro? The answer lies in Sunday’s Post article, which details the experience of Bell at the top of the metro.

The results are pretty well astonishing, especially for a player of his calibre. Gene Weingarten’s piece absolutely captures the results of the event, and of the amazing talent of Bell. Check it out, if only for the incredible video.

12 Comments so far

  1. Counterfly (unregistered) on April 7th, 2007 @ 10:35 pm

    How is this astonishing? A vanishingly small segment of society cares about classical music. A only slightly-greater-than-vanishing segment would recognize his skill, but keep on walking. No surprises here.


  2. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on April 7th, 2007 @ 10:58 pm

    It’s still astonishing that so many people could walk right by the top violinist in the world and not so much as pause.

    Classical music may be a small percentage of the musical environment, but in terms of its virtuosic requirements, it’s the majority share. That kind of artisanship needs to be appreciated, even if it’s on the metro escalators.


  3. Ponder Stibbons (unregistered) on April 8th, 2007 @ 12:19 am

    I don’t think it’s so much that no one was capable of appreciating Bell’s music. Rather, I suspect very few people were even paying attention to the wash of noise.

    I am a classical music fan but I am quite capable of ignoring the sounds of my favourite works if I am focused on another task. As a matter of fact, I read through that entire Post article with one of my favourite symphonies playing in my earphones. That symphony never fails to stun me when I’m listening to it with my eyes closed or in concert, but if I’m occupied by something else it might as well be white noise.


  4. Todd (unregistered) on April 8th, 2007 @ 12:46 am

    Yeah, I admit if I were going through the lobby of the subway, I doubt I would pay much attention to the quality of the violinist as I passed. It’s a busker… I don’t generally pay them enough mind to really evaluate their quality.

    He made thirty bucks, how much more can he ask for?


  5. Coeus (unregistered) on April 8th, 2007 @ 2:41 am

    I think he would’ve gotten a better response if he did this during the afternoon rush. I would think more people would be willing to take the time to stop and listen when they aren’t as rushed like in the mornings.


  6. Jenn L (unregistered) on April 8th, 2007 @ 3:44 am

    Amazing article, thanks for posting about it, Tom! I have such a crush on him… too bad this wasn’t Metro Center at lunchtime!!

    But apart from my silly crush, a really thoughful piece by Weingarten. I love the observation about how out of all the passers-by, kids consistently notice him and the music, wanting to stop and listen, but the adults drag them away. What we lose as adults rushing on our pointless stressful way. Such painful commentary on people’s inability to appreciate beauty.


  7. Wayan (unregistered) on April 8th, 2007 @ 10:00 am

    I appreciate your beauty, Jen.


  8. Rad (unregistered) on April 9th, 2007 @ 2:33 am

    The piece in the first video was kind of pretty. Does anybody know the name of it??


  9. Jenn L (unregistered) on April 9th, 2007 @ 10:38 am

    The article says he starts off with Bach’s Chaconne (Partita No. 2 in D Minor), so that may be it, Rad.

    And Wayan, you’re sweet. ;)


  10. sssssssaaaaaaa (unregistered) on April 10th, 2007 @ 8:12 am

    I think those like Gene, who find it alarming few people stopped, have a distorted view of art.
    Best example is the comment (in the post article discussion) that “we” don’t make things “beautiful” anymore, the telephone today is nothing like it was the ’30s. Stupid people. Telephones in the 30’s were a special product back then. Today it is pedestrian. You’d have to look at things like the Ipod or high-end cell phones to see the equivalent for today.

    All throughout history, people’s view of certain art forms change, appreciation grows and fades and grows again even for the same things. Today we are no different than people at any other point in history. Those who claim we have “degenerated” are clueless. People need to get off their high horse, look at history, and look at the world around them for what it is (i.e., we don’t live in 17th century Europe, music tastes have changed for the masses).

    To me, because of the technical esoteric selections Bell played (vs the more popular classics) and the location at the exit of the subway during rush hours, the whole experiment says nothing, it was useless, doesn’t mean a single thing.


  11. Duane Williams (unregistered) on April 10th, 2007 @ 10:45 am

    For many people, it was not pointless that they were rushing past Josh Bell that morning. They were probably just going to get to work on-time and many probably have bosses who don’t tolerate lateness. Their jobs are vastly more important to them than listening to an itinerant musician at a subway stop, even if it registers that’s he better than average. The point of the experiment was to see if people would pay attention to the exceptional music, but I bet it’s not easy to judge that music is exceptional in that otherwise noisy environment. I bet Josh Bell wouldn’t enter the recording of that performance in a competitive contest against the other great violinists playing on a concert stage in an otherwise quiet theater. So is the average Joe supposed to be knocked for not recognizing fine art when it’s performed at a busy subway stop?


  12. anon (unregistered) on April 12th, 2007 @ 12:56 pm

    Face it. Appreciation for art has declined and most people just read the Enquirer. We’re a nation of uncultured philistines who only care about money and fighting wars.



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