“Real Good for Free” is a classic Joni Mitchell song (thanks henhenstoll on YouTube for posting this BBC version).
The song is a ballad about Joni seeing a talented musician on the street “playin’ real good for free” and no one paying any attention to him, when she gets fancy hotels and concert halls, and how strange that is. It’s a beautiful song about the guilt that can come with success.
Well, The Washington Post put the song’s principle to the test. They had world famous violin legend Joshua Bell play at L’Enfant Plaza Station in Washington, D.C. at rush hour to see what would happen.
They even asked Leonard Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra what he thought would happen, and Slatkin said:
“Let’s assume that he is not recognized and just taken for granted as a street musician . . . Still, I don’t think that if he’s really good, he’s going to go unnoticed. He’d get a larger audience in Europe . . . but, okay, out of 1,000 people, my guess is there might be 35 or 40 who will recognize the quality for what it is. Maybe 75 to 100 will stop and spend some time listening.”
Slatkin said that a crowd would gather and the musician would make $150.
The results, as you might guess: He made $34. Nobody really paid much attention except a child, and even those who did drop a dollar in his case barely stopped walking to do so. Sorry Mr. Slatkin, busy people, even classical music lovers, barely hear the street musicians on our way to work. And it’s very sad.
This actually took place about a year ago, but the article is still worth a read, and makes you think twice about how well you appreciate what’s around you.
Thanks, Michael C., for the tip on this experiment by The Washington Post.