At 7:51 a.m., January 12, 2007, a young musician took his position against a wall in a Washington, D.C., metro station. He wore jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. He opened a violin case, removed his instrument, threw a few dollars and pocket change into the case as seed money, and began to play.
He played for the next forty-three minutes. He performed six classical pieces. During that time 1,097 people passed by. They tossed in money to the total of $32.17. Of the 1,097 people, seven—only seven—paused longer than sixty seconds. And of the seven, one—only one—recognized the violinist Joshua Bell.
Three days prior to this metro appearance staged by the Washington Post, Bell filled Boston's Symphony Hall, where just fairly good tickets went for $100 a seat.
Two weeks after the experiment, he played for a standing-room-only audience in Bethesda, Maryland. Joshua Bell's talents can command $1,000 a minute. That day in the subway station, he barely earned enough to buy a cheap pair of shoes.
You can't fault the instrument. He played a Stradivarius built in the golden period of Stradivari's career. It's worth $3.5 million. You can't fault the music. Bell successfully played a piece from Johann Sebastian Bach that Bell called "one of the greatest achievements of any man in history."
But scarcely anyone noticed. No one expected majesty in such a context. Shoe-shine stand to one side, kiosk to the other. People buying magazines, newspapers, chocolate bars, and lotto tickets. And who had time? This was a workday. "This was the Washington workforce. Government workers mainly, on their way to budget meetings and management sessions. Who had time to notice beauty in the midst of busyness? Most did not.
Most of us will someday realize that we didn't either.
Max Lucado, Outlive Your Life Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010, 167-168.
Gene Weingarten, Pearls Before Breakfast, Washington Post, 8 April 2007.
They are all our Children, SFS, 18 October 2010.
Save One Life. Save the World, SFS, 18 October 2010.
Max Lucado Experiences Transformation in Devastated Guatemala, SFS, 12 October 2010.
Oh to Hear a Human Voice, SFS, 10 October 2010.
Max Lucado Realizes What One Meal Can Do, SFS, 9 October 2010.
When Max Lucado Encountered Mother Teresa, SFS, 8 October 2010.
When Max Lucado Forgot the Bread, SFS, 8 October 2010.
Finding Father Benjamin: A Fable by Max Lucado, SFS, 5 October 2010.
Becoming More Ourselves, SFS, 16 January 2007.
Learning to Listen, SFS, 10 September 2006.
Geoff Pound’s new book on gratitude is described at this link: Talk About Thanksgiving.
Image: Joshua Bell plays in the subway.