It’s all about the context

Hey, maybe this fits into the framing debate. The famous violinist Joshua Bell stood in a Washington DC subway station, playing Bach on his Stradivarius, in a test to see how many commuters would stop and appreciate the magnificent music.

A few people stopped, but no crowd formed, and he got a total of $32.17 tossed into his violin case. That actually isn’t bad for 45 minutes of playing, but I suspect he isn’t going to give up his day job.


  1. PeterM. says

    I’ve lived in the DC area since 1967, working downtown much of the time. As a general rule, though well educated, the typical DCer has a lower culture quotient than yogurt.

  2. waldteufel says

    The average American is a scientific and cultural dolt.

    Our schools deal out pabulum to the masses and pretend it’s education.

  3. amph says

    I propose the following control groups to this experiment:
    1. Mediocre violonist, but who has been on tv, say Oprah’s show, playing the Chaconne.
    2. Joshua Bell playing Yankee Doodle
    3. Joshua Bell playing Bach, but with a sign before him saying “Evolution is just a theory”– no, that is silly, I mean a sign revealing that he is a world famous violin player.
    4. As #1, but with sign of #3.
    Count the loot after 45 mins of performance. Do the math. Draw conclusions.
    I suppose it will tell you something about the audience, not about Bach.

  4. says

    I have to wonder (or hope) that were this same thing to happen during the HOMEWARD commute the outcome would have been different. I can’t imagine people showing up late for work then explaining to their bosses, “Sorry I’m almost an hour late, I’ve been listening to the most amazing pan-handler” The problem is that work and career in some sectors place such severe constriction on every other aspect of our lives. Failure to adhere to company policy (being late to listen to an excellent piece of music or take care of an ill child) are treated rather severely.

    I was once in a station in California where I heard the most excellent saxophonist. Now, it’s true when I first went to CA I wasn’t used to seeing street performers on every corner and in the train and bus stations… but this guy was neat, knew his music, played well, and I enjoyed hearing him. Obviously he was no Joshua Bell, but… As I tossed a few bucks in his case my relative practically pulled me away. We would have missed our bus (the last one out) if I’d stayed, but that didn’t mean I didn’t wish I could have.

    I wonder, with all the people who walked by, if some of them just might have been wishing they could stay.

  5. gwangung says

    The average American is a scientific and cultural dolt.

    Our schools deal out pabulum to the masses and pretend it’s education.

    Once you frame it that way, I have no doubt that the average American will pay rapt attention to you.

  6. dm says

    He would definitely have done much better in Europe or Japan. If he was an evangelist preacher, he’d would have also done much better here. That’s our “high culture”.

  7. Cain says

    Oh come on! The author clearly wanted to write a “things were better in my day” article and figured out how to get exactly that. People have jobs to get to during the morning rush. As a DC Metro rider myself, I can tell you that a transfer station like L’Enfant Plaza would collapse from congestion if everyone didn’t move methodically to where they had to be. Stopping for a violinist would just cause a huge bottleneck.

    Besides, liking classical music doesn’t make you smart, no matter how much the snob commenters above wish it to be so. And dm, this is Washington, DC, one of the most liberal cities in the nation. What are you smoking?

    Don’t buy into the author’s douchebaggery, you’ll only taint yourself.

  8. Joe Shelby says

    Street performance is almost dead in the mid-atlantic.

    This is actually a cultural problem America has.

    We’ve been conditioned culturally to treat street performance, busking for tips, as stuff the “homeless” do, not a legitimate way of making a living. The idea in America is that if you’re actually *good* you should be able to get a decent job at it. If you’re on the streets, either you’re not trying hard enough, or you’re in some way insane and can’t hold a steady job and therefore aren’t worthy of any respect or attention (and certainly not money).

    Because it’s so hard to tell whether or not someone is talented or just homeless, Metro and other semi-public facilities make it very difficult to get performance permits. Even as they’re talking about opening it up, they have extremely difficult “audition” procedures and intend to charge for a cut of the artist’s take.

    This is in sharp contrast to European standards where quality street performance has been a respected part of the city and town culture for centuries. So too culturally high cities like Montreal, where Cirque Du Soleil grew out of the desire to get people to treat their own street performers with more respect. Both founders of Cirque started out as street.

    In fact, many people don’t actually understand that street performers can be extremely talented, and actually dilute the quality by assuming that “anybody” can do it and try to get in on the scene. A columnist in a Baltimore paper tried to imitate one a while back and got reamed out royally by the local performers who are very smart and educated and rather tired of seeing their lifestyle treated with such disrespect.

    Now one good thing that came out of this article is the realization by the people who manage Metro and other places that street peformance won’t make enough it tips to justify Metro and others trying to collect as large a cut as they’ve been talking about the last few months.

    It also might open their eyes to other groups like my own (The Foggy Bottom Morris Men) that actually don’t push for tips or expect them. We just want to get out there, perform a bit, and then go to the pub. Tips aren’t requested (though they aren’t turned down ;-) ). But if we have to pay the same amount as someone else who IS doing it for the money, we can’t afford it.

  9. Joe Shelby says

    And dm, this is Washington, DC, one of the most liberal cities in the nation.

    Being liberal with regards to politics, especially when that politics is almost always centered around race and race relations, doesn’t make one liberal with regards to culture.

    The “liberal” (re: New York and/or European) high culture here is too damn expensive for most of its residents to afford to participate in more than a couple times a year.

  10. says

    The ‘douchebaggery’ is the unreasonable expectation that people in the middle of a commute have time to stop and listen to the music.

    I can understand and would not have expected him to get much attention. That’s why I tied it to the framing stuff. You can be a world-class violinist at the top of your form, but playing on a subway platform is not a good way to make your talent known.

  11. Christian Burnham says

    There was an interesting comment on Randi’s page a few weeks ago.

    In controlled settings- not even experts can distinguish the supposedly superior sound of a multi-million dollar Strad over a good modern replica that costs a fraction of the price.

  12. says

    But what is the Null Hypothesis here????

    I think Mr. Bell has proven, if anything, that he does not know how to pick out a good spot to do his street music.

    There are probably a lot of actual street musicians cringing at this story!

  13. j says

    I love Joshua Bell!

    Classical music is pretty much dead in the United States. It is unfortunate indeed.

  14. Cain says

    Right on, PZ, although I was responding to the other commenters who seemed to draw the conclusion that all Americans and/or Washingtonians were boorish slobs due to the result of a rigged “experiment”. I didn’t mean to attack your framing argument.

    It’s also important to note that he was at the Metro entrance, where people have to be on the move, not at the train platform, where people can stand in one place. There’s a doo-wop group that performs on the platforms that is very popular here, partially because one has a chance to stand still and listen.

  15. miller says

    Wait, if we’re analogizing this to the framing arguments, doesn’t this article support the idea that scientists should frame science so that people will pay attention? Though, without a control group, it’s rather meaningless.

    Also, you may think that it’s too bad that people don’t appreciate classical music anymore, but this is really just subjective. I mean, personally, I think it’s too bad people don’t appreciate impressionist music anymore, and that baroque/classical music is overrated in comparison. But it’s not really worth it for me to complain about it.

  16. Joe Shelby says

    From a friend’s blog:

    DC is rather soulless, especially during the week, and especially in the Metro. Washingtonians, I would argue, are better patrons of the arts than in many places around the country — it’s just that those arts must be sanctioned by the venue in which they are seen. Penn [Jillette of Penn & Teller] talks about this being “the frame.”


    Joshua Bell has an orchestra behind him in a zillion dollar hall, and people pony up hundreds of dollars for even the cheap seats in many cases. Stick him in a DC subway station and he’s just another really good performer getting pennies chucked into his case.

  17. says

    I changed my degree to hear Email Gilels play the piano (Beethoven’s Emperor(, so I’m a fool for music. Bell chose a place where people are not inclined to linger nor probably have the time. And that Chaconne – it’s spectacular, a work of genius (listening to Menhuin’s 1956/7 recording now) but not easy listening. If you wanted to give commuters an intro to classical music and virtuoso performance in unsympatico suroundings, that piece is an audacious but pretty poor choice. Bach can be hard work: for every uplifting chorale, Air on a G string or Brandenburg Concerto there are hours and bloody hours of recitatives with God warbling at some poor sod of a watchman on the walls of Zion about the virtues of virginity, or a keyboard fugue based on the fibonnaci sequence that only Hal in one of his darker moments could appreciate. A point was kind of made, but it was a flawed experiment. Coda: Gilels died 2 months before he was due to play. Arse.

  18. says

    Wow, that looks spammy. Here’s an excerpt:

    [I]t could’ve been rewritten more interestingly as an examination of the diminishment of classical music as cultural capital, or more straightforwardly about the stupid irrelevance of conducting such an experiment at the one place and time in the city (a subway station at rush hour) where people are guaranteed not to have spare time…

  19. Steve LaBonne says

    A few people stopped, but no crowd formed, and he got a total of $32.17 tossed into his violin case. That actually isn’t bad for 45 minutes of playing

    Exactly! That’s why I (an avid amateur classical musician and music lover) really don’t get the handwringing over this. And as many others commenting on it have pointed out, he would have gotten even more in, say, Adams-Morgan.

  20. Stogoe says

    It all boils down to our ingrained-by-television police-state mantra:

    If you’re outside, you’re a troublemaker.

  21. says

    This suggests another experiment: next time you’re in the DC area, you and I can go to the l’Enfant Plaza Metro station, and you can talk about biology for 45 minutes or an hour, with a sample collection bucket with some seed money at your feet.

    Heck, I’ll throw in the first dollar, and fish out the Chick tracts that some people will doubtless throw in.

  22. Joe Shelby says

    BTW: Penn Jillette of P&T also calls it “Framing” when talking about how a performer sets his stage and his act in order to maximize tips.

  23. eric taylor says

    one guy was an amateur violinist, who threw down $5, disgusted that nobody recognized a great in their midst, another one was a concert goer who recognized bell, and threw down a $20, so purely by merit, he only earned $7.17

  24. kurage says

    He would definitely have done much better in Europe or Japan.

    I can’t speak for Europe, but I can tell you that in Japan, he would have been politely-but-firmly “asked” to move along in about five minutes flat. And if American commuters look like soulless drones for not stopping and appreciating the music, I can tell you that I’ve seen Japanese commuters bustle right by a man having convulsions on the ground.

  25. windy says

    “Almost all of them were on the way to work, which meant, for almost all of them, a government job.”

    What is this supposed to mean? Government workers should take the occasional morning off and smell the daisies, not like they have anything important to do?

  26. mg says

    I wonder what kind of crowd they could get if they plopped Larry the Cable Guy’s fat ass in the subway for 45 minutes?

  27. RyanG says

    So he can earn $43/hour doing work he enjoys? This must be the greatest country in the world.

  28. dorid says

    Eric, He made $32.17. The $20 from the woman who recognized Bell wasn’t counted in according to the Post article. As for the $5, I don’t see where the fact that an individual in the crowd was an amature violinist in any way skews the data…

  29. Lettuce says

    The problem is obviously the United States, I mean we have an n of 1 here , isn’t that proof enough?

    Obviously, Europeans would have recignized the virtuosity as they stood on a train platform. Why, in Britain where gauche culture hasn’t arrived the man would have been whisked to a concert hall riding on the shoulders of his cheering admirers.

    And in Japen? He’d be a living legend.

    In thos eother countries, classical is KING!

    But here, Public Radio won’t shove enough of it down our unwilling and uncultured throats. I blame public funding of education and the radio.

  30. says

    …one guy was an amateur violinist, who threw down $5, disgusted that nobody recognized a great in their midst, another one was a concert-goer who recognized Bell, and threw down a $20, so purely by merit, he only earned $7.17…

    Quibbling: but they didn’t count the $20. ‘Tainted by recognition’. And I’d definitely count the $5. The amateur didn’t recognize him, just loved what he was hearing. I don’t think you can disqualify his contribution just ‘cos his ear’s got a bit more training than some. If the point was: who stops just because s/he recognizes the beauty and the genius of it, sure, I buy you should strike the $20 (as they did), but no, not the $5.

    Oh. And I lived in DC a while ago, sorta remember that station (didn’t commute through it, tho’). And I play cello, have a daughter learning violin, generally have been around music all my life, do get to the orchestra now and then, have seen some pretty big names playing…

    And I’d bet if I’d been on my way to work through L’Enfant Plaza that morning, the odds I’d have walked past would have been pretty good. It might have been, at best, ‘damn… that’s one impressive busker’, and maybe a buck scrabbled out and hastily dropped in tribute to that much… I’ve never seen Bell play, wouldn’t have recognized him (first-line players I have seen play in person, I’m pretty sure would have stopped me in my tracks, but I’m not that good with faces, I’m afraid).

    Also: the point I got from the article wasn’t so much that DC commuters are uncultured schmucks, it’s just more the familiar complaint about our contemporary culture… that it doesn’t give us a lot of time (or inclination) to stop and hear the implied polyphony. And that’s a complaint I’ve got some sympathy for. What would have driven me past Joshua Bell blowing the roof off a subway station would have been guilt, get to work on time, don’t be a slacker, man, sure it’s pretty, but y’know… Even the time I squeeze in for practice, lessons, all that, I feel a bit of that, now and then… It’s a certain attitude that comes with the working life. You’re either working or you’re wasting time.

    I’m on a mailing list for a buncha Suzuki parents/teachers/others, and someone posted that very article a little while ago, and so far, it looks to me like that’s how people there were taking it, too. Not ‘oh, how terrible, how gauche everyone (else) is’… More, ‘yeah, that is a good point. We really gotta know when to stop and hear the Bach.’

    That’s all.

  31. dm says

    Besides, liking classical music doesn’t make you smart, no matter how much the snob commenters above wish it to be so.

    No you’re right, it doesn’t make you smart. But liking it is a good indication that you *are* smart.

    And dm, this is Washington, DC, one of the most liberal cities in the nation. What are you smoking?

    Hey, I’ve lived there for years. And since when have liberals been against classical music? If it weren’t for liberals, PBS classical performances would have disappeared long ago.

  32. Nona says

    As a D.C. resident, this mostly strikes me as the Post wanting to make a point about the withered souls of our city’s office drones, and rigging the experiment to get the desired result.

    If Bell had been *anywhere* but a major commuter hub during morning rush hour, he would have gotten a completely different result. Later in the day, at any station with either a lot of tourists or some decent nightlife, he would have certainly drawn a crowd. Anyone who knows this city will tell you: L’Enfant Plaza at eight in the morning has virtually nothing in common with, say, Dupont Circle at three in the afternoon.

  33. waldteufel says

    Well, gwangung, show me that the American public is other than as I described. Half of them think the earth is 6,000 years old. They think that when they’re watching The Flintstones that they’re watching a documentary.
    Tell me about how sophisticated Bubba is. I’m listening.

  34. Richard says

    I think this is relevant to framing … many of the passers by would have been happy, and highly appreciative, to pay $100 if Josh was in a tuxedo in a concert hall.

    Those who did stop and listen apparently had some level of classical training and could tell they were witnessing something special. This counters the argument that people are too busy to stop. They weren’t even aware of the beauty because the environment didn’t given them the signs they expect. Perhaps the rest of us notice and appreciate beauty only when it is presented in a way we expect.

    The full audio of Bell’s performance is at:

    And the authors chat today is at:

  35. gwangung says

    Well, gwangung, show me that the American public is other than as I described

    Why? If you go in assuming that, you’re not going to change it. ESPECIALLY if you want to change that state.

    The point is that the state of the American public is due, in large part, to precisely that attitude. YOU, not the audience, has to change the mindset if you want to change the audience.

  36. dm says

    But here, Public Radio won’t shove enough of it down our unwilling and uncultured throats. I blame public funding of education and the radio.

    Unfortunately (as the saying goes), “you can’t teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”

  37. says

    A few weeks ago I spent some time in New Orleans with Habitat for Humanity. While there, wandering around the French Quarter after helping to build a house, I came upon a street band: they were good. I spent an hour listening to them, sitting on the curb. Afterwards, I took them to a bar and bought them a round of drinks.

    It’s location; as PZ titled the post, ‘it’s all about the context.’

  38. Erasmus says

    all these nay-sayers would probably have walked right past this guy too. even if he had PDQ Bach sitting in with him on the high hat and snares. It’s real easy to play armchair director.

    but this is exactly what the framing issue is about. the point of the article was that this was an experiment in context: the bit about kant was not just journalistic fluff but a real insight to how people perceive (in that context it was ‘beauty’ but you could easily contrive another context for the science issue).

    and i’m with PZ. how the hell can you expect to generate the appropriate context in the network news medium? you can’t. talking heads dont say anything, and the people listening to them don’t expect them to. i love that fox news and cnn bullshit, but only from the frame of a study in rhetorical device, not as a source of information. but that frame is not the one that the medium is pushing for.

    i think the most interesting questions raised by the experiment are mostly lost on the bourgeois talking through the nose about the lack of cultural literacy or the geographical setting. bullshit, and you guys know it. anyone can say ‘by god if they’da done that ’round hyar folks’d be standin on top of each other’ blah blah blah because you know good and damn well they ain’t gonna be doing it wherever the hell you are.

    so as long as we are armchairing it i say most of you ding dongs would have walked right by too. because you can’t prove that i am wrong.

  39. nkylib says

    Washington is not a liberal city no matter what the residents think. They do not have a vote, the media controls dc and they are not liberal never have been never will be

  40. Alaya says

    For those mentioning DC as being souless (or its residents being souless) and thus not appreciating good street art…

    DC is two different cities right on top of each other. One is the 60% African American city. The city that invented one of the most vibrant and locally grounded forms of hip hop music in the country– GoGo (think Chuck Brown, for those of you who’ve heard of him). The other is the one we always hear about, and the one I think (or hope) people are referring to as “souless”. Namely, the one with the rich, (mostly) white politicians, lobbyists, contractors and other cogs of the big government machine.

    Some of the best street musicians I’ve ever seen (and I now live in NYC) have been in DC. Cultural idiots? I was at a “Taste of DC” event a few years ago. There were two bands playing on big stages. One was KC and the Sunshine Band and the other was some modern rock group I couldn’t save my life to remember. I was wandering around, eating some food, when I came across a pretty large crowd in a side street away from most of the festivities. I was curious, so I joined them. What were these fifty or so people all watching (and dancing to)? A guy banging on a bunch of buckets and a shopping cart. He was incredible. It was an impromptu block party with awesome percussive music, right in the middle of the city. And this sort of thing happens all the time there, if you know where to look for it.

    Anyway, sorry, I just had to speak up for my city :) I love the place.

  41. Redletter says

    I have to agree with dorid (#5) – as a commuter I can’t always stop and listen to the musicians on the subway platforms, no matter how good they sound. And some are from a program run by Lincoln Center!

  42. Geral says

    $32 for 45 minutes of playing? That’s still 3x what I make at a college level job…

    I can learn if I wanted too..

  43. says

    $32 for 45 minutes of playing? That’s still 3x what I make at a college level job…

    I always get depressed when I hear about US wages. About $10 per hour is below the Danish minimum wage.

  44. says

    One busker reacts, noting that busking (playing in public spaces) is a specific skill that incorporates but is not exactly congruent with the sort of performance Joshua Bell is used to. (via Kottke)

    I also note that I tend to have more time on the way home (my trip happens to be in the morning, but most folks would be doing so in the evening), so while I do believe this supports the concept of framing as important, the time variable should definitely be considered in the next go-round of this experiment.

  45. Kseniya says

    Yes Kristjan. We are in a “rich get richer, poor get poorer” phase but the pendulum is swinging back the other way. I think. I hope.

    Current Federal min wage is $5.15. Fifteen states have a minimum wage equal to the Federal, five have no minimum wage law. The remaining thirty, with one exception, have a minimum wage higher than the Federal. None have reached the $8.00 level, though some states have scheduled increases that will raise the minumim wage to the $8.00 mark (or higher) within the next year or three.

    The one state that has a minimum wage lower than the Federal is… drum roll please… Kansas! The state minimum wage is $2.65. To make matters worse in Kansas, overtime doesn’t kick in until the worker has logged 46 hours. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. “The State law excludes from coverage any employment that is subject to the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act.” I’m guessing most jobs are covered by the FLSA, but that still leaves some Kansans at $2.65. The tips had better be good.

    We won’t see a national average min of $10 for years, I don’t think.

    I agree that classical and baroque is overrated. I’d much rather go hear Bartok, Ravel or Shoenberg (or Elliot Carter or Steve Reich or Anton Webern) than another evening of Beethoven, Handel or Hayden. I like Beethoven, Handel and Hayden, but enough is enough.

    And another thing. Wasn’t it obvious that Lettuce’s comment (#32) was pointedly sarcastic? Some of the responses seemed to be taking it at face-value.

  46. brightmoon says

    there used to be a guy who used to play violin in the nyc subway & he was pretty good ..i always used to stop if i wasnt going to work …id try to listen if i was going to work (thats frustrating btw)….nyc used to let musicians play in the stations anyway…most people liked it … ive purchased CDs…. ive got a nice one about contemporary music from the Andes

  47. brightmoon says

    i also agree with the poster who said these buskers are mistaken for useless losers by a lot of people

    well talent doesnt always equal financial success

  48. Kseniya says

    Yah! The plebes can have their Philip Glass at Symphony Hall. I’ll take Reich in the subway. ;-)

    (Oops, I’m revealing myself as a bit of an elitist. Actually, I like Glass, but really… it’s no contest.)

    On a similar note… Have you heard Brian Eno’s treatments of Pachelbel’s Canon? If I remember correctly, he made tempo a function of pitch. The systematic time-stretching cause the various contrapuntal lines to out of synch pretty quickly, which yielded some pretty interesting incidental harmonies.

  49. says

    I seem to have had a CD of Brian Eno doing Pachelbel’s Canon, but I must have lost it during my many moves of the last half-decade. I can’t for the life of me remember where it is or what it sounded like. :-(

  50. Kseniya says

    i also agree with the poster who said these buskers are mistaken for useless losers by a lot of people

    Right. And people forget that there are places like Julliard and Berklee (to name two). Buskers in the subways in New York and Boston (or anywhere) could easily be prodigiously talented conservatory students and future household-names. You never know. I doubt Melissa Etheridge, Natalie Maines, Aimee Mann, Bruce Hornsby, John Petrucci, Branford Marsalis or John Mayer ever made the rent playing at Park Street.

  51. David Livesay says

    I seem to have had a CD of Brian Eno doing Pachelbel’s Canon, but I must have lost it during my many moves of the last half-decade. I can’t for the life of me remember where it is or what it sounded like. :-(

    Don’t feel bad. It’s not a reflection on you that you can’t remember it. Canons are a singularly boring genre of classical music. I can’t understand the popularity of this particular piece, except that perhaps some people expect classical music to be dull, and this piece meets their expectations dead on. Personally, I like my music to be surprising. That’s why I like Mozart, and the aforementioned Paganini, the Les Paul of classical violin.

  52. says

    But didn’t Pachelbel write his canon specifically to be played in elevators? It’s perfect for that! You don’t want to be surprised in elevators, after all, and everyone wants you leave quickly and efficiently at your floor.

  53. says

    I was once in Manhattan during a lunar eclipse and I managed to find a spot to view it between the skyscrapers. As a I sat there at midnight looking up, passersby would look up too. I would explain it is a lunar eclipse, they would shrug and walk on with that jaded Manhattan air. I was just another lunatic on the streets.

  54. Kseniya says

    (Oh I see, the spam filter got me for a drug reference… but the Ukrainian keyboard layout has come to the rescue once again!)


    I can’t for the life of me remember where it is or what it sounded like. :-(

    That is sad. Well… Imagine a performance of the Canon where there’s no conductor, and the bass-viol section took WAY too much valіum before the show, and…

    David, by the way – Perhaps I read too much into it, but I thought your original Paganini comment (#42) was very witty! :-)

    My opinion on the popularity of Pachelbel’s Canon: It’s accessible. It’s elegant. It’s soothing. I like surprises, too, but sometimes a warm bath is just the thing. Y’know?

  55. says

    Maybe everyone’s missing the point – maybe Josh Bell’s just overrated. The only reason he sounds so good in concert halls is because people paid ungodly sums for their tickets, so he must sound good.

    Actually, I think it’s telling that it was other musicians that appreciated it the most, and that somebody else commented that it reminded him of the soundtrack to Titanic. Most people’s exposure to classical music is through recordings, which are done primarily by very good musicians. So even if Bell is a top violinist, he’s probably not much better than what people are used to hearing, so his subway performance was what they expected classical music to sound like, and it didn’t sound like anything special.

    I find a similar analogy myself in sports. I never played hockey or tennis growing up, so most of my exposure to those two sports has come from watching the pros on T.V. The pros really are the top performers, but since that’s what I’d come to expect, it just seemed normal. In college, I started playing goalie in a roller hockey league, and all of a sudden, watching professional goalies was much more impressive, how quick their reactions were, how flexible they were, their hand to eye coordination. After college, I started playing tennis, and same thing, pro tennis became that much more impressive.

    I used to live in D.C. and commute on the Metro, and yeah, I know I wouldn’t have stopped to listen to this guy on my way in to work in the morning. Hell, I wouldn’t have stopped to listen to Pearl Jam, either. That’s just being a responsible person and getting to work on time.

  56. David Livesay says

    I like surprises, too, but sometimes a warm bath is just the thing. Y’know?

    Yes, I’ve heard it’s just the thing if one is planning to slash one’s wrists. ;-)

  57. Kseniya says

    Good points, Fatboy. There are also traces of that phenomenon exposed by that study about wines and prices and assumptions made about the quality of the wine (or was it beer?) based on the price. Same thing, eh? Subway performers are inexpensive wine – even when they’re great, they’re seen as cheap and common, even when enjoyable.

  58. Will Von Wizzlepig says

    There are some conspicuous issues with the whole deal.

    It was put together by a newspaper, which doesn’t inspire me to believe there was no intentional slant placed upon it.

    It took place in a location full of government workers, which doesn’t inspire me to believe there were a lot of bright bulbs walking past anyway.

    It was a violin played in what appears to be a largely marble/tile area- translation: really loud.

    It was a bunch of music which was judged to be masterpieces by people who are capable of making that judgement- translation: probably too highbrow for a middle-america audience.

    It was really early- people apparently like less to listen to music and more to listen to idiots amusing themselves early in the morning (as evidenced by turning the radio on in the morning.)

    Let’s throw the Mona Lisa down into any given freeway at rush hour and see who swerves to avoid crushing it.

  59. Sonja says

    Although this is complete speculation, I know I would have stopped and listened. This is because in 2007 I have become completely obsessed with the violin. I’m a moderately-sucky violinist that has been playing in a volunteer orchestra for the past 13 years.

    However in 2007, I made a New Year’s resolution to actually try and improve. So I’ve been taking private violin lessons for the first time since 1977 from an excellent local professional violinist. At my age it is very difficult to pick up new skills, but I have learned a lot already.

    Also, I’ve been obsessively attending the MN Orchestra this season, and have tickets for 5 more performances. Speaking of solo violins, the MN Orchestra schedule includes performances of the Sibelius Violin Concerto and the great Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (they also did the Tchaikovsky). I can’t wait!