busker, busking, Classical Music, Education Through Music, Elizabeth Fais, ETM, Gene Weingarten, HBO, Joshua Bell, PBS NewsHour, Union Station, Washington DC, Washington Post, Young Arts Master Class
Even if you’re not into classical music, you’ve probably heard of Joshua Bell. Meg Cabot mentions him in her Princess Diaries series and Vanished series. Or maybe you heard about that guy—the famous musician who played in a train station and no one noticed him. That Guy, was Joshua Bell.
The Urban Legend That Isn’t a Legend
In 2007, Joshua Bell posed as a common busker in a Washington D.C. metro station (during morning rush hour) as part of an experiment initiated by Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post. Only seven people, out of thousands, stopped to listen to him. Only one person recognized him. ONE. You can read the full story here.
Since then, Joshua Bell became known as “that guy” who played in a train station. Some people actually told him the story about that guy, not realizing he was that guy. He commented on Twitter that he felt he was in danger of being best known (in his career) as that-guy-who-played-in-the-train-station, and his tombstone would read: “Here he is, underground again.”
The Encore that Packed the Train Station
A cavernous train station is not the usual venue for a classical music superstar. Joshua Bell has played in all the major concert halls around the world. So why would he want to go back to a train station where he was blatantly ignored in 2007?
You can let a situation define you, or you change the situation to reinvent the definition.
That’s just what Joshua Bell did. On September 30, 2014, Joshua Bell turned the tables on DC’s Union Station and created a the ultimate public experience for classical music. This time, his performance at DC’s Union Station was highly publicized and people came out in droves. People who knew the story, but may not have known anything about classical music, packed the gigantic space, pressed shoulder to shoulder, 1500 strong. [image: morguefile.com]
Joshua Bell played the same music he did as an incognito busker (2007), except this time he held a capacity crowd spellbound. You can listen to the entire concert on YouTube Here.
The sheer size of the crowd that greeted him, and the warmth of their reception, made this encore a fitting compliment to his first train station experience. More important, he and the young artists who accompanied him brought beautiful music to the masses. I can’t think of a better ending to the story.
Honesty Hour: I feel compelled to write about Joshua Bell’s encore performance, because I’ve referenced his 2007 busking stint in two other blog posts. I never referred to him as That Guy. Not once. Honest.
PBS NewsHour Interview with Joshua Bell
The following PBS NewsHour video shows footage from Joshua Bell’s first busking experience and clips from his recent encore performance. In the personal interview that follows, Joshua Bell talks about the fate of classical music and the importance of keeping music in schools.
Encouraging and Instructing Young Artists
Joshua Bell puts action behind his words, contributing time and energy to the Education Through Music (ETM) program, among other philanthropic endeavors.
Most recently, he taught a Young Arts Master Class—some of his students accompanied him in his Union Station encore performance—which was the basis for a HBO documentary. See the following trailer for details.
Sherry Isaac said:
Elizabeth, I’ve noted in my calendar to come back later and watch all the clips. Yes, my calendar, I don’t want to forget, but it’s Canadian Thanksgiving and I have a turkey to pluck.
‘Here he is, underground again’. Ka-Snort. For many (self included), classical music exists on another plane. It’s not mainstream (though there are many pieces unidentified but widely recognized by the ‘masses’–again, self included) so I love that Joshua has let his sense of humor shine. He’s an ordinary guy… with an extraordinary gift.
And speaking of those masses (yeah, yeah, self included, just get on with it) what a tremendous gift to bring the music to the people. Pink (love Pink) and Bon Jovi (love Bon Jovi) and Nickelback and Foster The People (and so on) are on every radio. I don’t listen to classical music for a very sad reason: I forget it’s there. Also, I don’t know much about it, and like many people, I’m intimidated by my lack of knowledge so I tend to shy away from things I don’t know much about. (Except wine. Dove right in to learning about wine.)
The best thing we can do with a gift is share it (and thanks for sharing this one!). How awesome that so many people had their eyes, and ears, opened to classical music because of Joshua’s DC performances, both incognito and publicized.
Elizabeth Fais said:
Sherry, I hope you had a very Happy Thanksgiving. Next year I’ll have turkey on Canadian Thanksgiving too, because Thanksgiving dinner is my favorite meal of the year.
I have to confess that I do not know much about classical music at all. I too was intimidated by the aura that surrounds “classical music” until a friend forced me to see an Andre Rieu concert. I ended up totally loving the experience, because Andre Rieu spoofed on the whole *serious music* thing and made it laugh-out-loud fun. People were dancing in the aisles. I kid you not. You can watch some of his concerts on DVD. If you can’t find them, let me know and I’ll send you one. They’re a hoot.
Shortly after discovering Andre Rieu, the San Francisco Jazz station I listened to at work went off the air and I turned to the classical station. The announcers are amazing. I love all the details they relate about the composers, musicians, countries, history, etc. When I hear a piece I really like, I write down the name of the composer and who played it, then I buy it on iTunes. After a few years, I began to recognize pieces. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. But that’s exciting.
I think if classical music was more readily available in everyday environments, people wouldn’t be able to get enough of it. The intimidation factor is quite real for anyone who didn’t grow up around classical music. “Classical to Go” blog post a while back that showed examples of how some orchestras are taking the music to the people.
I don’t like all classical music. But I don’t like all jazz music, or blues, or *all* of any other kind of music either. It’s whatever notes float your boat 🙂