This next story is about a social experiment that happened in a Major City in the U.S. over a year ago. Even though its old news when I read the story is just made me think. As a lead in to this story, I thought I would start with a few quotes on life.
A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life….Charles Darwin
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment….. Buddha
Every man dies. Not every man really lives….. William Wallace
May you live every day of your life…. Jonathan Swift
So lets set the scene for this social experiment:
What did he think would occur, hypothetically, if one of the world’s great violinists had performed incognito before a traveling rush-hour audience of 1,000-odd people?
When this question was posed to Leonard Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra here is what he said.
“Let’s assume,” Slatkin said, “that he is not recognized and just taken for granted as a street musician . . . Still, I don’t think that if he’s really good, he’s going to go unnoticed. He’d get a larger audience in Europe . . . but, okay, out of 1,000 people, my guess is there might be 35 or 40 who will recognize the quality for what it is. Maybe 75 to 100 will stop and spend some time listening.”
So, a crowd would gather?
And how much will he make?
So before I go on what do you think would happen if a world-class musician played in a busy crowd on a street corner? How much money do you think they would make for an hours work? Would they even be noticed ? How many times do you walk by a street musician ? Do you put money in the Hat ?
Well this social experiment happened. Lets share more of the story.
As it happens, this is not hypothetical. It really happened.
“How’d I do?”
We’ll tell you in a minute.
“Well, who was the musician?”
A onetime child prodigy, at 39 Joshua Bell has arrived as an internationally acclaimed virtuoso. Three days before he appeared at the Metro station, Bell had filled the house at Boston’s stately Symphony Hall, where merely pretty good seats went for $100. Two weeks later, at the Music Center at Strathmore, in North Bethesda, he would play to a standing-room-only audience so respectful of his artistry that they stifled their coughs until the silence between movements. But on that Friday in January, Joshua Bell was just another mendicant, competing for the attention of busy people on their way to work.
For this incognito performance, Bell had only one condition for participating. The event had been described to him as a test of whether, in an incongruous context, ordinary people would recognize genius.
TO GET TO THE METRO FROM HIS HOTEL, a distance of three blocks, Bell took a taxi. He’s neither lame nor lazy: He did it for his violin.
Bell always performs on the same instrument, and he ruled out using another for this gig. Called the Gibson ex Huberman, it was handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari during the Italian master’s “golden period,” toward the end of his career, when he had access to the finest spruce, maple and willow, and when his technique had been refined to perfection.
So to set the scene properly. We have a world class musician, playon one of the finest musical instruments in the world. In fact in the original story in the Washington Post its reported he paid 3.5 Million dollars for the Musical Instrument. At the end of this story I will include a link to the original article. If you enjoy this story, you should read it. It has lots of great additional information.
Josh Bell took a three-block cab ride to the Orange Line, and rode one stop to L’Enfant.
AS METRO STATIONS GO, L’ENFANT PLAZA IS MORE PLEBEIAN THAN MOST. Even before you arrive, it gets no respect. Metro conductors never seem to get it right: “Leh-fahn.” “Layfont.” “El’phant.”
At the top of the escalators are a shoeshine stand and a busy kiosk that sells newspapers, lottery tickets and a wallfull of magazines with titles such as Mammazons and Girls of Barely Legal. The skin mags move, but it’s that lottery ticket dispenser that stays the busiest, with customers queuing up for Daily 6 lotto and Powerball and the ultimate suckers’ bait, those pamphlets that sell random number combinations purporting to be “hot.” They sell briskly. There’s also a quick-check machine to slide in your lotto ticket, post-drawing, to see if you’ve won. Beneath it is a forlorn pile of crumpled slips.
On Friday, January 12, the people waiting in the lottery line looking for a long shot would get a lucky break — a free, close-up ticket to a concert by one of the world’s most famous musicians — but only if they were of a mind to take note.
Bell decided to begin with “Chaconne” from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor. Bell calls it “not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history. It’s a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect. Plus, it was written for a solo violin, so I won’t be cheating with some half-assed version.”
Bell didn’t say it, but Bach’s “Chaconne” is also considered one of the most difficult violin pieces to master. Many try; few succeed. It’s exhaustingly long — 14 minutes — and consists entirely of a single, succinct musical progression repeated in dozens of variations to create a dauntingly complex architecture of sound. Composed around 1720, on the eve of the European Enlightenment, it is said to be a celebration of the breadth of human possibility.
So, that’s the piece Bell started with.
He’d clearly meant it when he promised not to cheap out this performance: He played with acrobatic enthusiasm, his body leaning into the music and arching on tiptoes at the high notes. The sound was nearly symphonic, carrying to all parts of the homely arcade as the pedestrian traffic filed past.
Three minutes went by before something happened. Sixty-three people had already passed when, finally, there was a breakthrough of sorts. A middle-age man altered his gait for a split second, turning his head to notice that there seemed to be some guy playing music. Yes, the man kept walking, but it was something.
A half-minute later, Bell got his first donation. A woman threw in a buck and scooted off. It was not until six minutes into the performance that someone actually stood against a wall, and listened.
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.
No, Mr. Slatkin, there was never a crowd, not even for a second.
As I said earlier, I cannibalized the original article. Here is some information on that before I continue on…
Pearls Before Breakfast
Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 8, 2007; Page W10
Here is a link to the original article…
There is a number of videos in the original article that you should see. When I think about this very well wrtten article, it just makes me think. As a parent I reflect how fast time has gone by. My two oldest are in college right now. It was not that long ago I was sitting at the soccer field watching them play. Sometimes we need to be more like a child and stop and appreciate the world around us.
Posted Michael Corey,
Founder & CEO, Ntirety
My Personal Twitter Account: Michael_Corey
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