The next time you see a street musician…

Pearls before breakfast by Gene Weingarten (Washington Post) is a superb article about an experiment he carried out at a Washington D.C. metro station. The premise was this: Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour?


He emerged from the metro at the L’Enfant Plaza station and positioned himself against a wall beside a trash basket. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play.

Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?

At the risk of over-hyping it, let me mention again that the article is worth reading.

PS: Got this via Signal vs. Noise but read it only today. Ironic?


2 thoughts on “The next time you see a street musician…

  1. I read it too. Man, the article is beautifully written. I don’t know, but it left me with a feeling of ungratefulness, as to how many times, I didn’t have the time to enjoy when a musician was performing. I have stood by, but only when I’ve had the time to spare..

  2. You should read the chat part of the article (I think a link is posted in the article) as well–it gives a more rounded perspective. Also, it’s difficult to stop when you’re supposed to get to work–no matter how good the music. It’s nice to say that you should stop to smell the roses but sometimes people can’t afford to because they’ve got to make ends meet.

    Also, classical music is not for everyone :).

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