The Washington Post got world class violinist Josh Bell to play his Stradivarius at a subway stop to see how commuters would react. Turns out they didn’t react much.

In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run—for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.

“At a music hall, I’ll get upset if someone coughs or if someone’s cellphone goes off. But here, my expectations quickly diminished. I started to appreciate any acknowledgment, even a slight glance up. I was oddly grateful when someone threw in a dollar instead of change.” This is from a man whose talents can command $1,000 a minute.

The one group who consistently tuned in: kids.

The behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.

Perhaps related, there’s an interesting anecdote about how Bell started young…real young.

Bell is that he got his first music lessons when he was a 4-year-old in Bloomington, Ind. His parents, both psychologists, decided formal training might be a good idea after they saw that their son had strung rubber bands across his dresser drawers and was replicating classical tunes by ear, moving drawers in and out to vary the pitch.

His subway set began with Bach’s “Chaconne” (here’s a piano version) which he calls “not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history.” The article also quotes what Brahms said about the Bach piece: “If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.” [via JK]

Update: The author of the piece writes, “This story got the largest and most global response of anything I have ever written, for any publication…With little or no elaboration, more than 100 readers so far have told me that this story made them cry. It was not a reaction I anticipated, at least not so universally, and it has somewhat taken me aback. Can those of you who had this reaction try to explain it?”