Chinese Proverb

"Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I'll understand." - Chinese Proverb.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Why isn't anyone watching?

As I watched the YouTube video below, I thought, "Why isn't anyone stopping to listen to them play?! Come on people!!"

I'm a huge fan of both Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser!
They're both only 24 years old, and was offerred a Sony Masterworks deal when their YouTube video went viral with more than 5 million hits.

Later they received a phone call from Elton John who invited them to tour with him this summer in Europe, and was on the Ellen DeGeneres show shortly thereafter. On the Ellen DeGeneres show, Stjepan commented, "I  went to the toilet, came back and suddenly, one million hits all of a sudden." Their viral video is below:

The first video reminded me of a Washington Post Article. A summary of the is article below, which is widely re-posted and used.

Washington DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
  • 3 minutes later: A middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.
  • 4 minutes later: The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the till and, without stopping, continued to walk.
  • 6 minutes: A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.
  • 10 minutes: A 3 year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly, as the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced them to move on.
  • 45 minutes: The musician played. Only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32.
  • 1 hour: He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities.

The questions raised:
  • In a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?
  • Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?
One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be:
  • If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments, how many other things are we missing?

I thought about this, and I have to admit I don't know if I would've stopped because:

1) I would feel akward stopping and listening. Not that I wouldn't be able to recognize good music if I heard it, and want to stop, but being a non-musician (before starting the cello), I thought it was kind of strange for people to stop and watch - I'm not familiar with the culture. I wonder if non-musicians have some of my awkwardness/shyness about watching musicians. What's the etiquette anyway? What if I don't have any change or money, is it rude to stop and listen and then walk away? Does it make musicians uncomfortable for people to watch? It would totally make me self-conscious! But then again, I'm new to all this...

2) I think preference plays a big part in this. I would be curious to know how many people that heard him play in that station that day also play an instrument. Are non-musicians less likely to stop or more likely to stop? Wouldn't it depend on a person's preference and not necessarily the skill and talent behind it? I know before playing the cello, which is my first instrument, I would stop and watch breakdancers (or any dancers for that matter), but never someone playing an instrument because I simply wasn't interested. That's changed of course!

I would be curious to know the following:
  • Were the six people who stopped and listened also musicians?
  • What percentage of the 20 people who gave him money were also musicians?
  • How many people would have stopped if the music selection was different, i.e. contemporary instead of classical?
    • I have to admit until recently I had no idea what the Bach Suites were (really! I wasn't exposed to classical music as a child), so how many people there would have recognized Bach to appreciate it?
Being famous helps, no question about it. If I ever see Luka and Stjepan, I wouldn't care what they were playing or doing, I would just run over and try to meet them! I can't believe those people didn't stop and listen to them in that first video I posted!! I guess that's how other violinists and musicians in-the-know feel about people not taking the time to stop and listen to Joshua play.

Next time if I hear a musician playing something I like, I'll definitely take the time to stop and listen!


  1. What is really sad is that my town of Colorado Springs, Co passed a law last year making it illegal to "beg". The law has been temporaily put on hold because some question whether or not it is constitutional to pass such an aweful law. It got me thinking about street performers. I do not know if the law would aplly to someone playign music and accepting tips, but what a loss to society if we no longer allowed street performers/musicians. If you like 2cellos, you should also have heard of Break of Reality, which consists of three cellos and a drummer.

    1. That would be a terrible loss! What if musicians were simply playing for the love of it and not asking for tips? I know of several groups who will perform during marathons under bridge passes or during festivals "just for fun." ..sad..

      I have heard of Break of Reality - not sure why I wasn't subscribed to them though - problem solved! :)