April 9, 2007
MarkBernstein.org
 
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He Was Playing Real Good, For Free

The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten invites Joshua Bell, the famed violinist, to spend a morning in a Washington D.C. subway station. He plays the chaconne from the Bach Partita No. 2 in D minor. He plays Schubert’s Ave Maria. He plays Massenet. Almost nobody stops to hear him.

The Post’s Web piece includes video excerpts from the 43-minute tapes, letting you see for yourself exactly what happened. This kind of drill-down opportunity is wonderful: the promise of Web journalism fulfilled.

"It was the most astonishing thing I've ever seen in Washington," Furukawa says. "Joshua Bell was standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, and not even looking, and some were flipping quarters at him! Quarters! I wouldn't do that to anybody. I was thinking, Omigosh, what kind of a city do I live in that this could happen?"

When it was over, Furukawa introduced herself to Bell, and tossed in a twenty. Not counting that -- it was tainted by recognition -- the final haul for his 43 minutes of playing was $32.17. Yes, some people gave pennies.

"Actually," Bell said with a laugh, "that's not so bad, considering. That's 40 bucks an hour. I could make an okay living doing this, and I wouldn't have to pay an agent."