Last week, London's The Independent carried out a similar experiment, with violinist Tasmin Little playing under the railway bridge next to Waterloo Station during the afternoon of April 17.
Her results were similar to Bell's. Just as (unsurprisingly) few of the thousands of federal employees rushing to get to their offices stopped to listen to Bell, few passersby (many presumably racing to catch trains at Waterloo) stopped to listen to Little either.
In the 45 minutes that Bell played his 1713 Stradivarius (much of that time devoted to the great Chaconne from Bach's Partita No. 2), seven people stopped to listen for a minute or so, according to the Post; 1,070 people hurried by without even appearing to notice. Bell earned $32 and change (including a $20 bill from one passerby).
According to The Independent, after 45 minutes, Little made Ô£14.10 ($28.20 at the current exchange rate). Eight people had stopped to listen out of an estimated 900 to 1,000 passers-by.
Little's most responsive listeners were tourists and young people (including three teenage boys who stopped and donated), and young children who attempted to listen before being snatched away by their hurried parents. (There are unlikely to be tourists at Washington's L'Enfant Plaza Metro station, the heart of the government district, at 8 a.m.; the few children are probably being hustled to school or day care by working parents.)
Little was recognized only twice, and one of those instances was by two members of the Philharmonia Orchestra. They told journalist Jessica Duchen, who was documenting the experiment for The Independent, that they'd have loved to stop and listen, but had a train to catch. A homeless man, however, did recognize Little's violin as a Stradivarius — it turns out that he was from Cremona, Antonio Stradivari's hometown.
As Newsday critic Justin Davidson pointed out on the blog The Rest Is Noise earlier this month, the results of such experiments might well have turned out differently "in a place where people had some reasonable expectation of an artistic experience: The Mall in Washington, D.C., Washington Square in New York, the square in front of the Centre Pompidou in Paris."
Which is what a French businessman en route to the Eurostar, a man who said that he listens and donates to buskers in Paris, told Duchen: "[Waterloo] is a busy place, people are coming and going, there are trains on the bridge; it's hard to listen to a piece like this in such circumstances."