Social Experiment: World-Renowned Violinist Plays DC Subway – Does Anyone Stop & Listen?

Posted on Feb 20, 2012 in Blog, Editorials, & Thoughts

Kevin Hayden – – Video Included

A man stood at a Metro station in Washington DC playing the violin. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of whom were on their way to work.

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

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.

During the entire 45 minutes, only 6 people stopped and stayed for any length of time. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk. He collected a paltry $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed.  No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

The violinist was Joshua Bell, considered to be one of the best musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a Stradivarius violin worth $3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the cheap seats were $100 and his talent often commands upwards of $1,000 per minute.

This endeavor was made possible by a “social experiment” by the Washington Post.  Fearing people might recognize Bell, or large crowds gathering, they pressed on with the experiment to see if people would notice beauty and exquisite art; if they were capable of recognizing it in such a chaotic environment such as a DC subway, or if people simply don’t care anymore.

It saddens me to see the results.  Such art is heard once in a lifetime for most, if ever.

From the Pulitzer Prize winning article by the Washington Post:

“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.

If Bell’s encomium to “Chaconne” seems overly effusive, consider this from the 19th-century composer Johannes Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann: “On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”

So, that’s the piece Bell started with.”

Continue Reading the amazing story, Pearls Before Breakfast, at the Washington Post

Tiny URL for this post: