Sunday, April 08, 2007


This article from the Washington Post is astonishing! (Thanks, Jessica, for leading me to it). As an experiment, the American violinist Joshua Bell stands himself, with his 3.5 million USD Strad, beside a rubbish bin at a Washington metro station, and starts busking. It's an experiment to see what will happen, how much money he will make, and whether people will pay attention or recognize him. He plays some of the greatest works for violin, including the Bach Chaconne. Over 1000 people walk past him in 43 minutes; one recognizes him (having been to one of his concerts recently), a few others loiter for a bit, a little 3-year-old would love to loiter but is pulled away by his mum who's in a hurry; most rush past. (It's a very long, but fascinating article).

I suspect many musicians have experience of busking at some stage in their lives. My son did it for one summer, in Ayr in Scotland. Just 16, he wanted to get a summer job, went to the local jobcentre, and they would not give him one (it's 12 years ago when jobs were a bit scarce). So he took out his fairly cheap fiddle and played some Scottish tunes - and made as much money then as Mr Bell did this January. It was about as much per hour as he earned as a highly skilled engineer in the UK 10 years later. Interestingly when he went to Edinburgh for a day's busking he hardly made anything at all. Probably the team setting up the experiment made a strategic mistake by placing Mr Bell at a busy place at a time when people were just rushing to work; had he been in a shopping mall things might have been different, and people might have crowded around him.

I remember hearing Josh Bell in Glasgow, quite some time ago (15 years??), and I am sure I heard him live somewhere else before then, when he must have been a mere child. During the interval, in a coffee queue, an older man beside me said, 'Who'd believe that the Americans can produce violinists like this'. I pointed him in the direction of Menuhin.


Lotus Reads said...

I don't know what I would do without the buskers that cheer up my morning's ride on the train...they are a breath of fresh air and I daresay some of them sing and play better than many of the people on the radio!

I am sorry I haven't been here in so long, but I was on hiatus for a while.