On January 9th, 2007 Joshua Bell, a world-famous violinist, held a concert in Boston. Seats were about $100 a pop, and the concert sold out. Three days later the virtuoso violinist entered the Washington D.C. Metro station wearing jeans and a t-shirt holding his Stradivari violin. He had agreed to be part of a social experiment organized by the Washington Post. The Washington Post wondered if average people would recognize beauty in an unexpected place.
For 45 minutes Joshua Bell stood next to a trash can in the busy station and played a difficult Bach piece, Schubert’s “Ave Maria” and several other numbers. In the 45 minutes he played, a little over 1,000 people walked by, but only six people stopped briefly to watch the violinist. Twenty people threw a combined total of 32 dollars and 17 cents into the case used to house the 3.5 million dollar violin. No one applauded when he finished playing; the notes echoing through the station were soon overcome by the silent bustling of people hurrying to their destinations. Only one woman recognized him–she’d attended one of his concerts several weeks earlier–and she approached him when he had finished.
It was a chilling answer to the Washington Post’s question.
If I was rushing to a class and came across Joshua Bell playing some incredible concerto would I stop? I don’t think I would. If I was in no hurry to get anywhere and heard him would I stop? I don’t know. I like to think I would, but I can’t be sure. I do notice beauty, but only when it is convenient for me to notice it.
When it’s convenient, I notice beauty in the skies.
When it’s convenient, I notice beauty in my back yard.
When it’s convenient, I notice beauty in lands far from my home.
When it’s convenient, I notice beauty in places other people forget to look.
When it’s convenient, I notice beauty in the details.
When it’s convenient, I notice beauty in unexpected places.
When it’s convenient, I notice the beauty in belonging to something bigger than myself.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” Beauty isn’t simply sensory. Beauty is connected to a much deeper emotion. Beauty changes you; it leaves you wanting more, whether it’s convenient or not.