Violinist, Joshua Bell

Fascinating! Completely Fascinating! But What Does It Mean?

Violinist, Joshua BellOn Friday, January 12, 2007, about 1,100 people passed by a street musician, in the D.C. subway, playing a violin. Very few people hesitated, let alone stopped even for a couple of minutes, to listen to him play. He played for about 45 minutes, and a few passersby gave him pennies, quarters, etc. He took in $32.17. But that’s a bit misleading because one lady put a $20 bill in his jar just at the very end of his playing. She had recognized who he was, and she was stunned.

The violinist was Josh Bell, one of the world’s greatest violinists who commands about $1,000 a minute to perform in symphony halls the world over–performing on his $3.5 million instrument, which he played even in the subway. He was brilliantly performing some of the world’s greatest music on one of the world’s most expensive instruments. For all practical purposes, he was ignored.

This was an experiment sponsored by the Washington Post: Do people recognize beauty in their day-to-day lives? Well, one person did. She recognized the incognito musician. The entire write up at the Washington Post can be found at this link. It’s a fascinating read. I was especially interested in the rocker who had 3 minutes to spare and spent them listening to and appreciating something completely new and unusual to him. A secretly recorded YouTube of the performance is below.

  • Can we only recognize beauty within prescribed confines devoid of pressures, environment, and circumstances?
  • Is beauty only beauty when it is appreciated––a nuisance otherwise?
  • Do the masses, even in a city like D.C., not appreciate classical music?
  • How did this gifted musician, who spent a lifetime refining his artistry and who is accustomed to the emotional ovations of thousands, feel when, for the first time, his brilliance was completely unrecognized–even dismissed as “a street musician?”
  • If this had taken place in London, Paris, Rome, etc. would the response have been the same?
  • What other questions about this pop into your mind?

I think Josh Bell had a lot of guts to agree to do this, and I suspect that, had I walked by him that day, I too would have been focused solely on the distractions of life’s routines, busy-ness, rush, and noise–missing entirely something amazing.