Monday, January 7, 2013

A Master Before the Wage Slaves: Joshua Bell in the D.C. Metro

Here, the world renowned Joshua Bell and probably not his 300 year old Stradivarius performing a concert for commuters in 2007. What happened during those 45 minutes has since become the viral stuff of urban legend: Great violinist plays for an audience too philistinized by the pressures of their soulless daily lives to take notice. Over a thousand pass him by, seven stop to listen, only one recognizes him.

There may be more to the story.

Bell played "masterpieces that have endured for centuries on their brilliance alone, soaring music befitting the grandeur of cathedrals and concert halls." There was no catchy pop or even Boston Pops to prick up ears dulled by their daily drudge. Then there's the choice of the harried morning hour versus the more relaxed evening one. This hidden camera event was designed by a Washington Post columnist as an experiment but it may not have been an experiment at all. It's been argued that control factors were tilted for maximum effect: What happened was exactly what they wanted to happen. Cynics might say that the real purpose wasn't to enlighten us to the tender beauties surrounding us but most likely it was a PR stunt.

If so, it worked beautifully. The video went wildly viral and its subject won the writer a Pulitzer Prize. (Must've been a lousy year for muckraking.) Here's the story as it appeared in the Post.


Marie said...

I loathe this stunt and found your page while trying to determine whether there were others who hated it as much as I do. The story gets cited a lot by people in my church to prove that we are all drudges dead to beauty and that we should be like little children. If Bell had set up to play at any time besides the morning commute (when adults have a legitimate reason to be intensely focused on getting themselves and their children someplace on time) and had done it in a location that was frequented by the sorts of people who are willing to spend $100 to attend a Joshua Bell concert, then I would have been very interested in the results. I think the results would have been much the same, but they would have actually proven something. And it would have proven an *interesting* something rather than, as you say, just rigging a situation to "prove" something about the hoi polloi--those lowbrow drudges who somehow don't appreciate music based on how many millions of dollars the performer spent on his instrument. Ugh.

Deiter said...

Amen, sister!