It was the most astonishing thing I’ve ever seen in Washington,” [passerby Stacy] Furukama says. “Joshua Bell was standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, and not even looking, and were flipping quarters at him! Quarters! I wouldn’t do that to anybody. I was thinking, Omigosh, what kind of city do I live in that this could happen?”
For Gene Weingarten, humor columnist and staff writer for the Washington Post Magazine, it was an idea born of observation.
“I saw a man playing keyboard outside a Metro station in D.C.,” he recalled. “He was really good, but no one was stopping to listen, and he had less than $3 in contributions. I thought ‘I bet if the greatest musician in the world was out there, no one would notice.’”
And so Weingarten set about to test his theory and, with the help of international virtuoso Joshua Bell, made manifest his experiment in D.C.’s Metro station at rush hour. They took the idea one step further: Bell would play his incognito concert on a multimillion-dollar Stradivarius.
Washington Post Magazine’s team prepared for various contingencies, including the need for crowd control as passersby realized what was happening. In the end, however, only one person recognized Bell: the above-quoted Stacy Furukama.
Judges said: “This is an incredible piece of journalism. It’s a moving account of modern life, a treatise on aesthetics, and simply a well-told story. As both a journalistic and a sociological experiment, this project crosses many boundaries and demonstrates the power of creative reporting.”
Editor Tom Shroder said, “More than 40 members of the clergy — priests, ministers and rabbis alike — wrote to say they had crafted a sermon around the message they found in this story: that we must not be so self-absorbed, or in such a pointless hurry, that we miss God’s beauty all around us.”