Who is that Fiddler in the Subway?


Joshua Bell in the DC subway (Weingarten, Washington Post, 2007)

Bjorn Brembs (@brembs) tweeted a link to an amazing story by Gene Weingarten from the Washington Post (2007). Brembs called it, “an amazing behavioral experiment”, which it is. It is also a great read.

Pearls before Breakfast*

If a world-famous musician performed in the DC subways during commuter hours, would people notice? Sounds like a cute set up, a fairly typical playful story. Weingarten and crew were able to get Joshua Bell to help with the experiment. The suggested irony is that people pay big bucks for a seat at sold-out performances to hear Bell. What would happen if he played, unannounced, in an unexpected context? The prediction (ha ha) is that very few would stop or listen. And that’s what happened.

But the story is much deeper, and the depth of the story sheds light on aesthetics, attention, artistic performance and especially on the beauty of individual differences.

Continue reading