What if the world’s best violinist played the world’s best violin at a subway stop?

Joshua Bell is an internationally acclaimed virtuoso. As part of a fantastic experiment in context, perception, public taste and priorities, Joshua Bell agreed to play his Stradivarius incognito at the L’Enfant Plaza station in DC at 8 am on Friday, January 12 in the middle of the morning rush hour.

In the next 43 minutes, 1,097 people passed by as Joshua performed his classical pieces. Only twenty-seven people gave money, most of them on the run – providing $32.17! The other 1,070 just hurried by, oblivious, few bothering to even look!

I bet he would have received about the same amount of attention in NY. We New Yorkers are more “busy” and “important” than government workers in DC, but that would be compensated by the slightly higher percentage appreciating the music and maybe recognizing Bell 🙂

Read the full article and watch the videos at:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html

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  • This may be the worst “experiment” ever. All it proves is:

    1. People on their way to work tend to be hard to distract from that objective.

    2. People don’t like to give money for a service they’re getting for free. (I know some music download experiments seem to counter this, but the game theory and psychology in those experiments is a lot different)

    3. The average person in a DC subway station isn’t interested in a classical violinist, no matter how good he is, they just don’t like classical music.

    I actually do believe that context very much influences one’s appreciation of art, and that there are plenty of people who are more likely to enjoy art because they’re “supposed to” (because the artist or work is well-regarded in general). But I don’t think that this particular case makes either of those points. I’m not sure Bell would have gotten much more money or attention if he had gone back the next day and hung up reviews of prior performances to inform people of who he was. I would love to see the experiment re-run at a subway station near where Bell (or another classical musician) was supposed to be giving a performance in order to at least segment the crowd into people who might appreciate classical music. (Separately, I wonder if the original test group would have given him more money if he had been playing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”)