Friday, April 13, 2007

For Whom The Bell

World-class violinist plays for hours in a subway station, almost no one stops to listen

Original story (with video) Washington Post April 8th 2007
Commentary: Gene Weingarten, Seth Godin

What's the purpose of a stunt like this? To show that people don't pay attention to street musicians? That although they are prepared to pay a hundred dollars for the cheapest seats when Joshua Bell is playing in a respectable auditorium, they aren't willing to stop and listen to him on the way to work.

What's the effect? People who went past, or were in the area, are kicking themselves for the missed opportunity. People who weren't there admitting they would have been among those who rushed past and paid no attention. So what are they going to do next time? What will you do when you hear a busker on the way to work?

Many people don't hear buskers at all. Many use personal devices - Walkman, iPod, mobile phone - as a way of disengaging from their immediate surroundings. (See my post on i-Phone or wii-Phone.) And many just don't pay attention until they are prompted by the context.

When Bell plays in concert halls and recording studios, he is reinforcing a musical agenda that promotes famous musicians like him at the expense of the thousands of musicians that are nearly as talented as him and not nearly as fortunate. When he plays in the subway, he is subverting this agenda a little.

Let's hope the effect of this story is that some people pay more attention to the live music in their environment. Not every violinist is as good as Joshua Bell, but there are thousands nobody has ever heard of that are nearly as good. You can appreciate good music anywhere.

And therefore never send to know for whom the busker plays, he plays for you.


Guy Kawasaki draws the following eloquent lessons from the story:
  • Don’t let the absence of trappings and popularity make you believe something is bad.
  • Don’t let the presence of trappings and popularity make you believe something is good.
  • Don’t pass by life much less let life pass you by.

See also my sequel to this post: For Whom The Saw.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is a great response to the Joshua Bell article by a NYC subway musician in her blog:
She interprets the situation differently from the Washington Post reporters... I thought you might find it interesting.