John Picarello, man of the hour

Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine had this remarkable story: They got concert violinist Joshua Bell to be a street musician at a Washington, D.C., subway station so they could gauge the reaction of passersby.

I hadn’t heard of Joshua Bell, but he’s one of the world’s top violinists, and has a little rock star in him. He was up for the challenge. He played six pieces in 43 minutes at the L’Enfant Plaza station. He played a violin made by Antonio Stradivari almost 300 years ago.

Of the 1,097 people who walked past that Friday morning in January, seven stopped. Passersby dropped $32.17 into Bell’s violin case.

Of one gent who walked right past, Gene Weingarten wrote:

“There’s nothing wrong with (the man’s) hearing. He had buds in his ear. He was listening to his iPod.

“For many of us, the explosion in technology has perversely limited, not expanded, our exposure to new experiences. Increasingly, we get our news from sources that think as we already do. And with iPods, we hear what we already know; we program our own playlists.”

Amen, brother.

That is why I so enjoy the music blogs, and why I started this one. How can we learn about new music (or new-to-us music) if you don’t share it with me, or if I don’t share it with you?

Too much music has disappeared from the air. But it is there, if you listen.

— I was out for a walk a couple of Sundays ago and was pleasantly startled to hear music blasting from a driveway. A couple of guys were working on a car, had the doors open and the car stereo turned up.

— The crew putting siding on our neighbors’ house had the radio turned up, and it was annoying only because I couldn’t hear it well enough to figure out what they were listening to.

— “A haw, haw, haw,” the sound of ZZ Top’s “La Grange,” was floating over the fence from the house next to the Y when I went today.

When I got into the Y, the first guy I saw in the locker room was naked except for his ear buds. He had his iPod in his mouth as he got dressed. Not sure I want to know what he’s listening to.

Lots of people work out with iPods, even where the Y pipes in music. Lots of people work with iPods. I see them all over the newsroom. They’re content. I’m not. I want to hear what they’re listening to.

I’m not putting down iPods or the people who love them. Both are here to stay.

But there is something to be said for blasting tunes so that all can hear. You might hear something you dig. You might meet someone cool. You might make a lifelong friend. You might have a revelation.

John Picarello did. He stopped to listen to Joshua Bell that morning in the subway station. He stopped and listened, astonished, for nine minutes.

I don’t have an iPod, so here’s a song I heard today at the Y:


“You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” the Gap Band, from “Gap Gold,” 1985.

I liked it when I heard it 25 years ago. I liked it today. Turn it up. I intend to. Someone else — perhaps our 12-year-old son or his friend — might hear it for the first time and dig it.

To read, see and hear more about this remarkable story:

Read Gene Weingarten’s story, then read the transcript of his chat with readers. He starts the chat by saying: “This story got the largest and most global response of anything I have ever written, for any publication.”

Video of Joshua Bell’s performance is embedded in the story here, here, here and here. Listen to the audio of his complete performance.


1 Comment

Filed under April 2007, Sounds

One response to “John Picarello, man of the hour

  1. Gary

    There is a great response to the Joshua Bell article by a NYC subway musician in her blog:
    She interprets the situation differently from the Washington Post reporters… I thought you might find it interesting.

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