Joshua Bell is a world-famous violinist – but don't worry if you didn't know that. At least you probably didn't ignore him as he was performing classical music, wearing casual clothes and appearing to be ordinary busker, in the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in Washington, D.C. on the morning of January 12, 2007.
During the 40-minute experiment suggested by The Washington Post's Gene Weingarten, over a thousand people (1,097 to be exact) passed by, yet only one identified the violinist. Bell, who has been the musical director of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields since 2011 and is an icon in the classical music world, has also made appearances on popular shows like Sesame Street. Yet despite his magnificent playing in the Metro, only 27 people put money in his violin case ($32.17, excluding the $20 from the one person who recognized him), and only seven people stayed to listen for any length of time. Bell performed six pieces, by composers such as Bach and Schubert, on his Stradivarius violin from 1713 (currently valued at $14 million).
Even conductor Leonard Slatkin expected better. "Out of 1,000 people, my guess is there might be 35 or 40 who will recognize the quality for what it is," he had predicted. "Maybe 75 to 100 will stop and spend some time listening." Who knows what the lesson is, but next time you're in a subway station, keep your eyes and ears open. You never know who might stop by.
The value of the violin:
- It takes at least 70 individual pieces of wood to make a single violin.
- The violin in use today was invented at least 500 years ago, possibly by Andrea Amati in the 1500s.
- Made in 1716 and in like-new condition, the Stradivarius Messiah is thought to be the most valuable violin in the world, estimated at $20 million.