Stop and smell the violins

Did you hear the one about the guy in Washington D.C. who was playing a Stradivarius for spare change?

At 7:51 a.m. on January 12, 2007, a young man in a baseball cap placed his violin case on the floor of L’Enfant Plaza metro station and lifted his instrument to his chin. For 43 minutes, he played six pieces as more than 1,000 people rushed past him to catch their trains.

Only 6 people stopped to listen. About 20 gave him money, but they continued walking at pace. When he finished no one applauded. He collected $32.

As it turns out, the young man in the baseball cap was Joshua Bell, one of the most gifted musicians of our generation. He played his violin—a 1713 Stradivarius valued at about $3.5 million—as people threw pennies into his violin case. Pennies!

You can read the rest of the story in The Washington Post. (The story won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, by the way.)

I was reminded of this story yesterday when a friend emailed it to me, and once again this morning, as I rushed past a street musician on Franklin Avenue. I was running late for a meeting and didn’t want to lose time fishing for change.

I’m pretty sure the guy with the banged-up guitar wasn’t Joshua Bell. But I still feel bad about not having acknowledged him. Anyone who tries to bring a bit of music—a bit of beauty—into others’ lives deserves at least a thank you.

Next time, I promise to pause and listen.

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