I'm particularly intrigued by the reactions to the Washington Post piece on the busking virtuoso that's been gettin' all them blogs a-buzz (lookit all them little bees buzzin around an' everything!) While I think "Pearls Before Breakfast" makes for a dandy article name, I can't say I'm so quick to join up and lay down the Uncultured Philistine smack on the residents of Washington, DC for not recognizing a famous violinist in their midst. I mean, really, hands up, folks: who had heard of Joshua Bell before reading that piece? Okay, use your free hand to give yourself a cookie, but I freely admit I'd never heard of the fellow before, though he sounds like an amazing performer.
I have a busker or two on my friends list and I hope they can corroborate this next point with me, the point that subway busking is a transitory experience (if you can pardon the word choice there.) Mr. Bell was stationed at the entrance to one of the busiest Metro stations at the height of morning rush. In that location, folks are going to come and go quickly and if you can imagine your own commute, you'll know that there are times when you've had to rush out the door, down to the car, or dash to the train station to make the 7:17 train because if you wait for the 7:20 train, you'll be late, or you won't get a good seat, or you'll turn into a pumpkin, or whatever. If you want a crowd to gather, you go where people stand around. Had Mr. Bell performed on the train platform, I wager, more folks would have listened more closely while they waited for their train. It may be less of a comment on individual ignorance and more of a comment on our society, ruled by the clock as it is, that one should no longer expect people to stop and appreciate beauty; you've got to offer it to them when they're stopped.
I also wonder how many people passed by as he played and took the music with them. Even just hearing a fragment of a tune as you pass by can get it into your head. Perhaps you carry that tune around with you for a while. Heck, it could even set your whole mood for the day. If you think of it in Sims terms or somesuch, imagine everybody in that video who passed by as Bell played gained a musical note over their head. Think of all the people on the platforms, then, with musical notes over their head, little glowing eighth notes, getting on trains, dispersing elsewhere, and perhaps spreading, via a good mood, notes to others. I dunno. It made for a nifty visual, that's for sure.
But the folks with iPods, well, they're on their own here. By choice.