In January 2010 Joshua Bell performed six classical pieces wearing jeans and a baseball cap in front of a trash basket at L'Enfant Plaza in Washington DC with an open violin case at his feet. He played Bach's "Chaconne", one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on his $3.5 million Gibson ex Huberman Stradivarius.

In 45 minutes over 1,000 people passed by; seven 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

Gene Weingarten's Washington Post article compares it to the tree in the forest and asks:

She and her collaborators at the Post say:
"It's an old epistemological debate, older, actually, than the koan about the tree in the forest. Plato weighed in on it, and philosophers for two millennia afterward: What is beauty? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?"

There was no demographic (sex, race, ...) distinction to those who showed some interest except for the behavior of one demographic, which remained absolutely consistent. 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. 3 year old Evan, the cute black kid in the parka, son of Sheron Parker, who keeps twisting around to look at Joshua Bell, was the most persistent.
(None of the videos I could find on the web showed this.)

The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother's heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too.

Post reporters collected phone numbers from 40 people saying they wanted to contact them about commuting. They were asked if anything unusual had happened to them on their trip into work. Only one, John Picarello, immediately mentioned the violinist. Picarello had studied violin seriously, intending to be a concert musician, but ended up a supervisor at the Postal Service.

One person had seen Bell perform at the Library of Congress a few days earlier and recognized him.

In an interview after the performance Bell says:
"It was a strange feeling, that people were actually, ah . . ."

The word doesn't come easily.

". . . ignoring me."

Weingarten concludes:
"We're busy. Americans have been busy, as a people, since at least 1831, when a young French sociologist named Alexis de Tocqueville visited the States and found himself impressed, bemused and slightly dismayed at the degree to which people were driven, to the exclusion of everything else, by hard work and the accumulation of wealth."

Article at the
Videos: "Stop and Hear the Music".
All the videos I could find were the same short version.
Short Video

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last updated 11 June 2007