Why Joshua Bell has guts

Two years ago, violinist Joshua Bell performed as a street musician at the L'Enfant Plaza Subway Station in Washington D.C. Bell played Bach and Schubert on his Stradivarius violin for 43 minutes.

This was part of an experiment by Washington Post Magazine writer Gene Weingarten. The article called Pearls Before Breakfast, won Weingarten the Pulitzer Prize.

Bell's busking performance stats:
  • Over 1,000 people walked by Bell
  • 27 people stopped to listen
  • He made $32.17
  • $20 of the total came from someone who recognized him
I think about this study as I practice er-hu (Chinese fiddle) for Stuck Elevator, an operatic solo performance about an undocumented Chinese immigrant.

Er-hu players busk in the New York subways and Seattle's Pike Place Market. Their fiddles don't even come close to the $2 million-plus that Bell's Stradivarius violin costs. Nor does their playing command the usual $1,000/minute that Bell usually earns.

In the subway station, a soloist performs and I listen from afar awkward and embarrassed knowing I don't have the guts to busk. If music is played in a subway station, are there enough ears to listen?