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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello everyone,
I'm a journalist writing a book about street performance, and was hoping to get some comments from classical music fans. I'd love to know your thoughts on the below questions. A discussion would be great, or you could email me here: [email protected].

  1. Have you heard about an 'experiment' where a famous violinist played an expensive violin in the Washington subway?
  2. If so, what do you remember? What were your takeaways?
  3. What do you think the classical music world could learn, if anything, from that experiment.
Thank you so much for any replies, from a very recent addition to this forum,

Nick
 

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I DON'T BELIEVE IT!
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1. Yes, I remember the story, I think he played Bach;
2. What I think I remember (might not be correct) is that almost no-one stopped to listen;
3. The target group for classical music is very, very small indeed.

I'm 65 by the way.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
1. Yes, I remember the story, I think he played Bach;
2. What I think I remember (might not be correct) is that almost no-one stopped to listen;
3. The target group for classical music is very, very small indeed.
Brilliant, thank you so much! As expected, actual classical music fans would talk about the music. Everyone else I've spoken to has focused on the audience :)
 

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1. Yes.
2. Is this a test of memory, or can we look it up and refresh. That silly conclusions were drawn from the "experiment".
3. Nothing. There is nothing to be learned from someone busking in the subway.
 

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I tried to split my answers according to your list, but they are all connected. Here are my answers:
  1. Yes, I remember.
  2. The violinist was Joshua Bell. I don't remember exactly what the repertoire was, or when or where this took place (though you said it was the Washington subway). The value of money earned by the violinist in the subway was quite small, and only one person recognized the violinist.
  3. Make of this what you wish. A cynical take would be that since it took place in a subway, people assumed it was an anonymous street musician and didn't pay attention to the music itself. Another interpretation would be that the subway crowd is relatively disinterested in classical music (perhaps understandably, since these are mostly people trying to get somewhere through a crowded mode of public transport). A third view is that the proportion of people who would recognize this violinist is quite small (again, understandably). My view at this moment is that it isn't part of an experiment properly involving the scientific method, so while we can invite speculation, observations, and discussion as a result of this, we cannot draw firm, useful conclusions.
Best of luck with your book.
 

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Does it matter where the busking takes place? I don't think it's right to extrapolate this outcome to the entire planet with regard to willingness to engage with classical music. I've seen buskers or ensembles in a lot of places - airports, train stations, shopping centres and the like - where the general public has stopped to listen. Of course, I didn't go and ask them all why they'd stopped to listen.
 

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There is no market for solo a cappella violin music even among classical music fans. Not sure what anyone would expect. Are any concerts given of solo a cappella violin music? Commercial recordings? Famous compositions?

I do like the beginning of Ravel's Tzigane.
 

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There is no market for solo a cappella violin music even among classical music fans. Not sure what anyone would expect. Are any concerts given of solo a cappella violin music? Commercial recordings? Famous compositions?

I do like the beginning of Ravel's Tzigane.
I mean, there's the Bach violin sonatas...and then there's...uh......hmm...uh....
 
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Yes, I remember the incident and saw the video.

I remembered what some others have described. The violinist played at least one advanced solo work for violin (I assume he played much more). People did not recognize him and did not wish to stop to hear the music.

I'm not sure the classical music community should infer too much. I rode the subway in New York every day on my way to school. It's rather chaotic, and people don't have time to do much but "run" to work. When I heard about the incident, I wondered if I would have stopped to listen to the performance (or at least part) if I had seen it.
 

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No one comes to a subway station to hangout, generally. You're there simply to get to another destination, usually under a time constraint. It's a very flawed experiment.

A shopping mall may have been a better choice, or a lunchtime plaza...
 

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I’m curious what the result of this experiment would be if the violinist played at the subway stop nearby the local symphony concert hall.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Hi everyone,

Thank you so much for your answers. I've just woken up, and enjoyed reading through them. It’s probably unwise to tell the world the content I’m writing about before I’ve even secured a publisher, but I’m really curious about how classical music fans would react to reading the facts about the experiment, when laid out. So, here we go…

The experiment took place at 7:50 a.m. on January 11th in Washington D.C., just 23 minutes after sunrise. The journalist noted in a later Q&A that perhaps the only thing you could infer from the experiment was that people were in a rush. He did not mention that in the article.

There was almost nowhere you could stand and watch without blocking foot traffic through this commuting hub.

The location was not actually the subway, but connected to it. A room with ten possible pathways through it (i.e. five entrances/exits, so ten routes), only one of which took you past his case. That route was bookended by doors, meaning people walking directly past his case had 3-5 seconds to hear his acapella violin to take off their gloves and throw in a coin before moving on. I counted only forty people in the entire time who actually naturally walked directly past his case.

The journalist spent seven paragraphs talking about how legendary (and expensive) the violin was. Through no fault of his own, this was five years before studies started to emerge showing even professional violinists find it difficult to tell how good a violin is, even in perfect conditions, even when they are playing the violins themselves.

The violinist played chaconne, a piece the journalist describes as "dauntingly complex". He played it twice, lasting roughly 30 minutes. He also played a couple of other songs. The journalist accused one commenter who said that not everybody would find that piece interesting or beautiful as not understanding: it was objectively beautiful.

A man who’d taken the violin ‘seriously’ until he was 19 said he’d never heard anyone play so well. Another man said it was the first time in his life he’d ever tipped or stood to watch a street performer. The lady who worked the shoe-shine stand next to where the violinist played said that it was the first time in six years that she hadn’t called the cops to get a busker moved on (she said it was bad for her business when they turned up).

The story was titled “pearls before breakfast”, a play on the religious saying, “do not put pearls before swine”, a warning against putting valuable things in front of ‘swine’, who can’t appreciate it.

The violinist was Joshua Bell, a man who’d never busked before. He dressed down, and played like he would have on stage—no eye contact with the audience, no attempt to engage at all, just gently swaying next to a wall.

Every single person I’ve spoken to about the experiment said something along the lines of “the piece demonstrated you can’t appreciate beauty out of context”, or that there aren’t many people who like classical music, or that the violinist didn’t earn much (he made $32 in 43 minutes).

The article won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, has been quoted in countless articles and even academic papers, and the story of the ignored violinist was made into a popular children’s book.

How does this make you feel about the ‘experiment’ now, and its potential impact?

Thank you so much for your comments above!

Nick
 

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in the holy Quran there is a phrase that says "Man was created Weak" and I think this incident reflects the weak nature of us as mankind.

I live in Saudi Arabia and yes we face a lot of difficulties in our life. but I don't think that we are as pressured as westerners, In the morning when everyone is in rush, the place is crowded and I highly doubt that everyone had his cup of coffee. In these conditions people are excused for not paying attention for a classical violinist playing one of mankind's greatest achievement.

Classical music is not meant for everyone, not everyone would love Bach's Chaconne. But when classical music is represented in the right condition at the right time it would have miracles effects on people. or at least some of them

check YT video "Baby hears Moonlight Sonata for the first time, The purest reaction to Beethoven"
 

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Rereading the various write-ups, I'm struck by the challengeable assumptions in the articles. For example, "World-famous violinist Joshua Bell", thus setting up the first "proof": that even a world famous person will be either ignored or not even recognised as "the world famous" in a certain context. I don't doubt that in the world of virtuoso violinists, Joshua Bell is famous...but in the whole world? I wouldn't recognise him (which must surely be 'proof' of my point!) It should be noted that what he is famous for is his playing, not his appearance. If the 'protagonist' was, say, Beyoncé singing an aria, would she have earned more money? Or at least attracted more attention? Or would people still hurry past muttering that these Beyoncé lookalikes should find somewhere else to sing.

Was the purpose of the "experiment" really to find out "is beauty capable of capturing people’s attention if it’s presented in an everyday context at an inappropriate time? In other words, are people able to recognize beauty in unexpected contexts?" Is this something we needed to know? Why?

This was reported as "a social experiment that proved that people often look without really seeing what’s in front of them." Is it really proof? It's barely evidence, never mind proof.

"Bell decided to use his Stradivarius violin, an instrument with an estimated value of over three million dollars "

So what? Rather foolish, perhaps, though maybe those who set up the experiment knew that violinists aren't generally mugged for their instruments at that hour of the day.

One conclusion seems to have been written in before the experiment was carried out: that the writers of the article had decided this was a lament for an uncaring society that can't even stop to listen to Bach on an expensive violin. Commenters btl would be queueing to write "so sad" in response.

Alternatively, one possible conclusion is that Bell is an arrogant, self-important, self-absorbed individual who couldn't believe that so few people would stop.

I'm sure he isn't really, just pointing out that any potential for valid conclusions to be drawn is undermined by the sententious write-up.
 

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in the holy Quran there is a phrase that says "Man was created Weak" and I think this incident reflects the weak nature of us as mankind.

I live in Saudi Arabia and yes we face a lot of difficulties in our life. but I don't think that we are as pressured as westerners, In the morning when everyone is in rush, the place is crowded and I highly doubt that everyone had his cup of coffee. In these conditions people are excused for not paying attention for a classical violinist playing one of mankind's greatest achievement.

Classical music is not meant for everyone, not everyone would love Bach's Chaconne. But when classical music is represented in the right condition at the right time it would have miracles effects on people. or at least some of them

check YT video "Baby hears Moonlight Sonata for the first time, The purest reaction to Beethoven"
It looks like a form of child abuse - parent behaving badly.
 
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