In January of 2007, the Washington Post asked world-renown violinist Joshua Bell to perform the 43-minute piece Bach piece “Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin,” in the L’Enfant Plaza subway station – one of D.C.’s busiest subway stations – during the heart of rush hour.
Joshua Bell was used to performing in front of sold out crowds, filled with ambassadors and state leaders, in the finest concert halls across the globe. He is generally considered one of the best violinists alive, and his talents pay him substantial dividends.
However, as over a thousand morning commuters passed by Joshua Bell on that cold morning in January, his credentials were humbly irrelevant. To everyone’s surprise, The Post found that, “of the 1,097 people who walked by, hardly anyone stopped. One man listened for a few minutes, a couple of kids stared, and one woman, who happened to recognize the violinist, gaped in disbelief.” Many were expecting Joshua Bell to cause music pandemonium with his free subway appearance, but his performance garnered no more attention than any other street musician.
Gene Weingarten, the author of the piece, went on to win a Pulitzer prize, but psychologists and laypeople alike were left asking the same question: why didn’t people stop and listen?