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Music Appreciation?

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Posts: 2717
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Got this in an e-mail from my brother.
I checked it's veracity on . . . it's true.

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played some of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats averaged $100.

Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, on one of the finest instruments in the world - how many other things are we missing?

It's the rock that gives the stream its music . . . and the stream that gives the rock its roll.

Posted : 14/01/2009 2:32 pm
Posts: 5342

Sounds about right. I've never been recognised when busking either

A :-)

"Be good at what you can do" - Fingerbanger"
I have always felt that it is better to do what is beautiful than what is 'right'" - Eliot Fisk
Wedding music and guitar lessons in Essex. Listen at:

Posted : 14/01/2009 3:51 pm
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Everything.. but I'm not sure what that experiment really means. I don't think humans are by nature multi-taskers so when your rushing to work in the morning did they think that this guy (who Inever heard of either) would make everyone stop in their tracks to listen.

I know I wouldn't unless he played something that I liked and even then I'd listen for a second and walk on.

And the chances of me dropping money in his hat are slim to none.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!

Posted : 14/01/2009 3:52 pm
Posts: 4113
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Everything.. but I'm not sure what that experiment really means. I don't think humans are by nature multi-taskers so when your rushing to work in the morning did they think that this guy (who Inever heard of either) would make everyone stop in their tracks to listen.

I know I wouldn't unless he played something that I liked and even then I'd listen for a second and walk on.

And the chances of me dropping money in his hat are slim to none.



Posted : 14/01/2009 4:01 pm
Posts: 1247
Noble Member

Wow - Interesting story.

Though, I used to work at The Chicago Board of Trade and took the Metra to The Lasalle St. Station everyday;
There were NO buskers there in the AM.
There's something about taking a train.... very sleep inducing :)
So, I know that I was still waking up as I walked out of the station.... I doubt that I would care much about a busker,
especially in a January in Chicago.

On the other hand, there were PLENTY of buskers there on the return trip, and I would always stop to listen and
throw a tip their way :D
There were two ways in/out of Lasalle St Station, and after watching one busker for a bit, I would go 'round to see if there was another in the other tunnel - Great entertainment at a great price :wink:

I know I would def. stop to check out a solo violinist playing Bach! :shock:

How cool would that be!
And I'm sure I would have stayed long enough to shoot the breeze with him about his axe!
Plenty of trains to catch on the way home.


"The man who has begun to live more seriously within
begins to live more simply without"
-Ernest Hemingway

"A genuine individual is an outright nuisance in a factory"
-Orson Welles

Posted : 14/01/2009 4:14 pm
Posts: 6348
Illustrious Member

I had heard about that experiment. maybe if Joshua played a recognized or common melody more people would have stopped. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star....I'm just saying.

Posted : 14/01/2009 8:09 pm
Posts: 4459
Famed Member

I think the problem with the experiment is (and I haven't read the intent) is that they make some assumptions on why people might or might not stop.

Certain people are going to stop no matter what, whether it's some famous guy playing guitar or some kid banging on plastic pails (that's big in New Orleans) but I don't think it has anything to do with music appreciation an more to do with someone's personality.
I would imagine that people that are naturally nosey might tend to take a look at what's going on just because it's in their nature.

Personally I don't think they can make any conclusions based on the experimant they did, sounds like a waste of money.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!

Posted : 14/01/2009 8:34 pm
Posts: 7833
Illustrious Member

There are extraordinarily talented musicians all over the place. Most of 'em rarely have much of an audience.

"A cheerful heart is good medicine."

Posted : 14/01/2009 8:52 pm
Posts: 5038
Illustrious Member

which is why playing music is an avocation primarily for oneself. and if others happen to enjoy it, that's icing.

-=tension & release=-

Posted : 14/01/2009 9:26 pm
Posts: 156
Estimable Member

I agree with gnease. Plus in a world where most listen to pop music (that's why it's popular) how many people would notice what is considered some of the best music in the world. I think most would not.

Does creative complexity and instumental virtuousity make what is art and essentialy emotional better?

Posted : 14/01/2009 11:10 pm
Posts: 4459
Famed Member

The more I read this the more I think it was a very flawed experiment. First of all this really has nothing to do with the music that's incidental (and the main reason no one looked).

Music is for the most part is an aural experience and it really doesn't matter about any visual images to get into the music. Music is also played everywhere, in elevators as background music etc. Add to that the natural sounds of nature and you are subconciously bombarded with music all day.

Now they have this experiment to see if anyone recognizes the beauty in some supposed great guitar player. Here's the problem. This becomes a visual experiment more than an aural one. Seeing a guy sitting there playing a guitar isn't going to spark anyone's attention, unless he were Elvis or somebody. So it doesn't matter if it was Josh Ball or some old bum on the street it's such a fairly common occurance to see something like that it's not attenion grabbing, and if the visual image doesn't grab them then they are never going to stay and listen to the music and even then as long as you aren't playing horribly out of keys notes no joe smoe is going to know whether your famous or not.

I don't see how you can draw any conclusions about beauty or music or pretty much anything from.

But put some guy with two heads out there or a naked chick and I'll guarantee they'll be a lot of people stopping to look

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!

Posted : 15/01/2009 12:23 am
Posts: 2415
Famed Member

I just copied that into an email and sent it to everyone in my address book, yep, all 4 of them.

Thanks for the article Ken, that, for whatever reason, had an impact on me tonight.

In Space, no one can hear me sing!

Posted : 15/01/2009 3:59 am
Posts: 5480
Illustrious Member

I found this interesting. Yes, as mentioned, the "study" is flawed from a scientific standpoint 10 ways to Sunday. However, it is still interesting. Replace the musician in that scene with whatever flips your trigger and then ask yourself if you would have stopped for say, a minute.

Also made me wonder if the Nomadic tribes of 1000 years ago every woke up on a cool Autumn day and said "The foliage is pretty, let's stay here a week and enjoy it." I digress.

So, another semi-random rambling. A "minute", or other small amount of time, in a big sity commute is quite a big emotional investment. I just think about some of those people making the commute from cnev's neck of the woods into NYC every morning. Drive an hour to the train station (barely make the train), get out at grand central, hop on at least one subway car, get out and walk 5 blocks, grab fresh coffee for $3.00 at the coffee shop closest to work, and then take an elavator 25 floors to your office so that you make the 9:00 meeting on time.

My point is, a big city commute is not a stroll in the park. It is a twice daily mission. More impressive (and perhaps sad) is the fact that we can program ourselves to focus and drive towards that goal without giving in to temptations, such as the musician in this case. One would argue that it is a cognitive act, but I suggest that getting up to start the day is about the only part of it that is nearly complete so. I think that the thought of "keep going" becomes less than pure cognitive thought and more of a trained response under these circumstances. It would take a series of internal questions all to be answered in the positive in order for someone to stop.

I'm rambling.....

Funny thing. If it was my step father doing this journey and he stumbled upon a well manicured bed of tulips, it'd take a hungry Lion to have him NOT stop. I've always been envious of his ability to do that.

"I wonder if a composer ever intentionally composed a piece that was physically impossible to play and stuck it away to be found years later after his death, knowing it would forever drive perfectionist musicians crazy." - George Carlin

Posted : 15/01/2009 10:58 am
Posts: 4921
Illustrious Member

My two cents...

The key flaw in the study is hinted at by the word "inappropriate": in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour. They recognized from the get-go that Bell's performance was not suited to the venue.

As people, we pay attention to what's important to us at the moment. During the morning rush hour in the subway, people are occupied by their thoughts and plans of the day: rehearsing a sales presentation for the client they're about to meet, reviewing information that might be on the test in school half an hour from now, etc. The real question being asked by this study: is this guy SO GOOD that his playing can derail people from their own thoughts and priorities? And the answer is no. And that's as it should be - you wouldn't want your doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc. to be easily distracted from their concentration. I'm not surprised that it was children stopping - they haven't developed those internal agendas.

Then there's choice of repertoire. He played "some of the most intricate pieces ever written". That's a bad move for a busker - you're appealing to those who know enough about the instrument to appreciate the level of difficulty. And you're playing pieces that are going to be unfamiliar to the commuters who don't listen to the classical repertoire. If instead they'd had him play arrangements of Beatles songs (or something else appropriate to the average commuter's age) the average Joe would have a basis for comparison - they're assuming that because it's hard, people will like it. If that were universally true, Yngwie would have a much bigger audience.

But there's another question they didn't recognize, and they got a good answer to that one too: is this guy good enough to make a living playing his violin?

In 45 minutes, he got $32. For a solo busker anywhere, that's good money - the only time you'll consistently get amounts like that is when you're playing somewhere music is expected/appreciated and the people are drunk (Mardi Gras, etc). But it looks like Mr. Bell, working a 2-hour rush in the morning and evening, and working a five day week, could earn about $853 per week. Two weeks off for a vacation, and that's still over $42K per year. Toss in giving a few lessons, and you can put the kids through college.

No one applauded? Well, you can't eat applause. People showed their appreciation in a way that cost them a bit more than clapping their hands - something that shouldn't be given such short shrift. It seems to me folks are saying "hey, this guy is good - I hope I can help him keep on playing". They were just saying that in a way that was appropriate to the venue, and in a way that actually supports the music (and not just the musician's ego)

So I'd say they proved the point they say they didn't: we do perceive beauty, we do express our appreciation of it, and we do recognize talent. Even in the subway, and even when we're busy with other things.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL

Posted : 15/01/2009 1:20 pm
Posts: 7833
Illustrious Member

Yeah, he made pretty good money for a busker.

"A cheerful heart is good medicine."

Posted : 15/01/2009 1:40 pm
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