Dept. of Musical Experiments

If you’re wandering through the DC metro any time soon, pay careful attention to the busking musicians; one of them might be Joshua Bell, gamely playing along with a WaPo writer to see if people would notice a world-class violinist in the subway.

Sadly, the answer was mostly “no.”

In preparing for this event, editors at The Post Magazine discussed how to deal with likely outcomes. The most widely held assumption was that there could well be a problem with crowd control: In a demographic as sophisticated as Washington, the thinking went, several people would surely recognize Bell. Nervous “what-if” scenarios abounded. As people gathered, what if others stopped just to see what the attraction was? Word would spread through the crowd. Cameras would flash. More people flock to the scene; rush-hour pedestrian traffic backs up; tempers flare; the National Guard is called; tear gas, rubber bullets, etc.

As it happens, exactly one person recognized Bell, and she didn’t arrive until near the very end. For Stacy Furukawa, a demographer at the Commerce Department, there was no doubt. She doesn’t know much about classical music, but she had been in the audience three weeks earlier, at Bell’s free concert at the Library of Congress. And here he was, the international virtuoso, sawing away, begging for money. She had no idea what the heck was going on, but whatever it was, she wasn’t about to miss it.

There was another guy who clearly knew from classical music, but he didn’t know what Bell looked like, so he didn’t realize he was listening to a guy whose CDs he owned.

In the end, Bell collected $32.17 in bills and change, all tossed into the case for his $4MM Stradivarius. (Bell plays this one.)

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