nobody’s listening

So according to Wikipedia, which is obviously never wrong, Joshua Bell, the Grammy-winning violinist, participated in an experiment in 2007 where he busked at a DC subway station for 45 minutes and collected only $32.17 (which included a $20 bill from a guy who recognized him). Money aside, only 7 people even stopped to listen to him. The experiment would go on to get is writer-upper a Pulitzer.

Joshua Bell (catch him here, playing the first movement of my favorite concerto in the world) is probably the closest thing to a “celebrity violinist.” (Any other suggestions for that title? Itzhak Perlman, maybe?) And yet no one really recognized him.

I can’t say I’m surprised; I don’t think we should be expected to recognize classical musicians by sight, or even by sound. It would be really snobby to assume the world at large is interested in one particular art form.

That said, it makes me sad that no one recognized that the music they were hearing was being executed by a virtuoso. It seems like on the whole, no one is listening.

I’m going to nurse this little anecdote to myself for a while. I think it’s good to be reminded to enjoy all the things the world around me has to offer, as it’s so easy to just, well, tune them out.

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8 Responses to nobody’s listening

  1. That really is some good food for thought. At least the few people who listened must have had a cool little nugget of an experience, even if they didn’t know the whole significance of it.

  2. WendycinNYC says:

    If I stop to listen for a while, I always feel obligated to throw a dollar into the hat. Which is not big deal, but sometimes I don’t have an extra buck handy, ya know?

    Signed, the woman who didn’t take her purse into the ladies room and was met by a helpful bathroom attendant, thereby feeling guilty all evening for failing to tip her.

  3. JES says:

    I remember reading about that experiment. It did seem a little, um, almost set up to fail. Not that DC is necessarily a cultural wasteland, but I bet he’d have had different results busking at the NYC subway (or in Central Park) or the San Francisco Metro. Or whatever the equivalent in Chicago might be.

    Now to expand on the original experiment you just need to put, oh, say — just a completely random example — Michael Chabon on a subway platform with a desk and typewriter.

  4. Froog says:

    You remember the Monty Python ‘Novel Writing Sketch’ (I think it might only have been on the albums, don’t remember it from the TV) where a radio commentator describes the open-air public performance of Thomas Hardy beginning work on his latest novel? Hilarious. Chabon would be a great update – especially for his special fans.

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