Cricket in Times Square

Phil Ford

My wife just showed me this story — a very thorough, rather thoughtful account of a musical experiment. What would happen if one of the world’s greatest classical performers busked incognito in a major Washington DC transit facility at rush hour? Find out what happened.

I don’t have much to say, partly since the article’s authors have done a pretty thorough job on the What It All Means part, and also since I don’t want to give away the surprising (or maybe not) result.

Go read it.

Now, readers: was the result what you expected?

The musician in question is Joshua Bell. I knew him slightly — saw him around and talked to him a few times, anyway — when I was studying at Indiana. He’s a really nice guy. He had a Porsche and a strad and a major career at 18, and you wanted to hate on him, but it was a widely remarked-on fact that you couldn’t. This is stranger than you might think. A bunch of hyper-competitive music students could hate on anyone, could hate on the Dalai Lama, if you convinced them he had gotten to the semifinals of the Tchaikovsky competition. (“Those saffron robes are ugly. And he plays out-of-tune!”) Joshua Bell must have had a big bottle of hater repellent somewhere.

He was also a pretty good violinist.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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7 Responses to Cricket in Times Square

  1. Scraps says:

    I wish they’d had him busk in a park on a weekend, too. It seems to me that having him do so in a crowded station at rush hour is, well, leaning on the “experiment” to get the results you want.

  2. Les says:

    I agree with Scraps up there. This experiment is bogus.

  3. Guidonia says:

    I saw this story and was wondering if musicologists were going to comment on it. OK, maybe you’re right that the experiment was skewed, but still, this is one of the most depressing stories I’ve read in awhile. Did you see the video? Bell was playing the chaconne (you know, T H E chaconne) like a god and all these government workers were rushing by like it was nothing. If Bach can’t be relevant when Joshua Bell is playing it…well, I don’t even want to go there.

  4. Richard says:

    Well, responding to Scraps & Les, except the results they expected were not at all what they got. I thought it was an interesting article.

  5. Michelle says:

    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.

  6. Gotta say, exactly the result I was expecting. I find it slightly depressing that the story is ‘busy people don’t recognise Joshua Bell’ rather than ‘busy people step over dead homeless man’ as referred to in the middle of the article – did he get 7,550 words in the Post? Paying little attention to a busker is just part of the territory – he doesn’t expect anyone to stop and listen, we know we’re not expected to, the busker-commuter relationship continues as ever.

  7. ben wolfson says:

    When I used to commute to work in Chicago, I never saw buskers in the morning. I saw them at lunch and in the evening. Presumably there’s a reason for that. (I also saw people stop and listen to the buskers, many of whom, while not Joshua Bell, were quite adept, not infrequently.)

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