Pearls Before Breakfast – Washington Post

Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out.

HE EMERGED FROM THE METRO AT THE L’ENFANT PLAZA STATION AND POSITIONED HIMSELF AGAINST A WALL BESIDE A TRASH BASKET. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play


It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Almost all of them were on the way to work, which meant, for almost all of them, a government job. L’Enfant Plaza is at the nucleus of federal Washington, and these were mostly mid-level bureaucrats with those indeterminate, oddly fungible titles: policy analyst, project manager, budget officer, specialist, facilitator, consultant.


Catch this companion piece as well – It includes a link to Springsteen doing a similar thing in the EU.

Monday, April 9, 2007 1 p.m. ETPost Magazine: Too Busy to Stop and Hear the Music
Can one of the nation’s greatest musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Gene Weingarten set out to discover if violinist Josh Bell — and his Stradivarius — could stop busy commuters in their tracks.

Read the entire piece at:

Pearls Before Breakfast –

By Gene WeingartenWashington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 8, 2007; Page W10


Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters …

On that Friday in January, those private questions would be answered in an unusually public way. …

The musician did not play popular tunes whose familiarity alone might have drawn interest. …

The acoustics proved surprisingly kind. Though the arcade is of utilitarian design, a buffer between the Metro escalator …

So, what do you think happened?


Leonard Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, was asked the same question. What did he think would occur, hypothetically, if one of the world’s great violinists had performed incognito before a traveling rush-hour audience of 1,000-odd people?

“Let’s assume,” Slatkin said, “that he is not recognized and just taken for granted as a street musician . . . Still, I don’t think that if he’s really good, he’s going to go unnoticed. He’d get a larger audience in Europe . . . but, okay, out of 1,000 people, my guess is there might be 35 or 40 who will recognize the quality for what it is. Maybe 75 to 100 will stop and spend some time listening.”

So, a crowd would gather?

“Oh, yes.”

And how much will he make?

“About $150.”

Thanks, Maestro. As it happens, this is not hypothetical. It really happened.

“How’d I do?”

We’ll tell you in a minute.

“Well, who was the musician?”

Joshua Bell.


A onetime child prodigy, at 39 Joshua Bell has arrived as an internationally acclaimed virtuoso. Three days before he appeared at the Metro station, …

Bell was first pitched this idea shortly before Christmas, over coffee at a sandwich shop on Capitol Hill. A New Yorker, he was in town to perform at the Library of Congress…

“Here’s what I’m thinking,” Bell confided, as he sipped his coffee. “I’m thinking that I could do a tour where I’d play Kreisler’s music . . .”

He smiled.

“. . . on Kreisler’s violin.”

It was a snazzy, sequined idea — part inspiration and part gimmick — and it was typical of Bell, who has unapologetically embraced showmanship …

When Bell was asked if he’d be willing to don street clothes and perform at rush hour, he said:

“Uh, a stunt?”

Well, yes. A stunt. Would he think it . . . unseemly?

Bell drained his cup.

“Sounds like fun,” he said.

The article is long, but worth every minute…and be sure to block some time to read the accompanying piece referenced above.

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