The best musical sound is live music. Despite legendary “world-class” playback systems, the details and nuances are lost in the recording and reproduction process. Sadly, most people hardly, if ever, have heard live music. One of the few ways they can hear it is by the buskers who play in parks or subway stations, looking for a tip. Their performances are usually just adequate, but the novelty of hearing them live does make them interesting.
Gene Weingarten, in the Washington Post, wrote a fascinating article a few days ago that described an experiment sponsored by the Washington Post to see how people would respond, not just to live music, but to great live music. The Post got Joshua Bell, one of the worlds best violinists, to play, on his Stradivarius, some of the best classical solo violin pieces in the lobby of the L’Enfant Metro (subway) station in Washington D.C. He was dressed in casual clothes and a Washington Nationals baseball cap, and had his violin case open to accept tips. He played for 43 minutes during the morning rush hour, recorded by a hidden video camera set up by the Post. 1,097 people walked by. What do think happened?
If you thought that a crowd gathered, people clapped, or the news media called, think again. By far the most people just passed by, simply ignoring him, despite the loudness of his playing in the indoor lobby. It took three and a half minutes before someone made a donation. It took six minutes before someone stopped to listen. Quoting Weingarten:
“Things never got much better. In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run — for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.”
To be fair, this was at the peak of the rush hour on a Friday morning before a holiday, and virtually all the people were going to government jobs. However, the obliviousness of most of the people was stunning. The race or gender of passers-by didn’t seem to make a difference, except for one thing: “Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.” Ran Prieur comments on this as a kind of training of people for the Matrix (see his comments for April 8 and 10). What happened between the time of the curious kids and the “mature” parents? Maybe we need to go back to out childhood innocence to enjoy the music better?
In any case, this is a great article. It may require a free registration, and if the Washington Post takes it down, I’ve saved a copy.