Is Joshua Bell a good busker?
The Washington Post published an article about an experiment they did: they got Joshua Bell, one of the best violinists in the world, to play incognito in a subway station. They wanted to see if without the PR he usually gets for his stage performances anybody would stop to listen.
The result was – hardly anybody stoped to listen.
The Washington Post analized it as if it were the fault of the audience, the passers by, for not recognizing such a great musician. I say – it wasn’t the fault of the passers by at all.
The thing is Joshua Bell is a great violinist but he doesn’t know how to busk. There are violinists who are not even close to being as good as he is (such as Jim Grasec or Lorenzo LaRock), yet they get crowds to stop and listen to them. It’s because when you play on the street you can’t approach it as if you are playing on a stage. Busking is an art form of its own. You need to be as good a musician as to audition for any stage gig (the competition over permits is fierce) but in addition to that you have to relate to the audience and be a real people’s person. You can’t hide behind your instrument and just play, with an invisible wall between you and the audience, the way a stage performance is conducted. In busking you use the passers by as if they were paint and your music is the paint brush – your goal is to create a collective work of art with the people, in the space, in the moment with you and the music.
A busker is someone who can turn any place into a stage. Obviously, Joshua Bell needs an actual stage. As a busker one needs to interact with those around, break walls of personal space, and lure people into a collective and spontaneous group experience on the street, in the moment, with you. A bad busking act is when the performer doesn’t make an effort to connect with the audience. Like musicians who play for themselves, not acknowledging the audience, just burying their heads in their instruments.
IMHO that is why Joshua Bell didn’t get lots of people to stop and listen.
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