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Monday, February 19, 2024

Before You Go: Hidden Beauty

CRL columnist John Gray looks to acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell for life lessons.

With winter upon us, it’s understandable to want to stay curled up on the couch in an oversized sweater—smartphone in hand, scrolling away. Unfortunately, that’s not always good for the soul. 

Spend enough time on social media and you’ll undoubtedly start to feel like you aren’t skinny enough, rich enough, popular enough or taking the right vacations. TikTok, Instagram and the rest are a window into what appears to be a much better life than you’re living. It is, however, all an illusion.  

If age breeds wisdom, I’ve learned comparison truly is the thief of joy. Many of us are so obsessed with the destination that we fail to pay attention to the journey or what’s often right under our nose. I can’t think of a better example than the story of Joshua Bell.

Joshua is a gifted musician from Indiana, who started playing the violin at the age of 4. By the time he was 17, he was performing sold-out shows at Carnegie Hall. He is, without a doubt, one of the finest and most accomplished violinists in the world.

One day, at the height of his success, Joshua Bell tried an experiment. He noticed street performers would set up shop in public spaces and play for spare change. He wondered if passersby would notice if the person singing for his supper, or in this case playing, was him.

So on January 12, 2007, Joshua took his 300-year-old Stradivarius to Washington DC’s Union Station to play for the passing commuters during Friday morning rush hour. They call this busking; from Dave Matthews to Ed Sheeran, many of the stars you hear on the radio today started performing this way, long before they were famous.

The Washington Post got wind of Bell’s plans and, with his permission, tagged along to watch. They reported with great astonishment that in the hour or so that Josh played, 1,097 people walked by without giving him a second thought, 27 put money into his open violin case on the dirty floor, and just seven stopped to listen.

I remind you; this was a world-class musician performing Bach and Schubert for free, and almost nobody took the time to appreciate it. The man who earns a thousand dollars per minute to play, on that day, made $32 bucks.

And here’s the best part: That Stradivarius he was playing in the middle of the train station was valued at between $10 and $15 million dollars. Surely people would have loved to get a glimpse of that.

What’s my point? Am I telling you that the next time you see someone playing the violin on Broadway in Saratoga you should stop because they might be a genius? No. But if you want to bring a bit more joy into your life, you should slow down and notice the beauty around you.

From our bigscreen TVs and iPads to the dashboard displays in our cars that resemble something straight out of NASA, we are drowning in distractions. When was the last time you sat in complete silence, taking inventory of your many blessings? Trust me, you won’t find them on Snapchat.  

To borrow a line from the Broadway show Rent, measure your life in love, not likes. I hope you enjoy your winter and hit the pause button long enough to admire its frosty white beauty.

Oh, and if you are curious, Joshua Bell (who, as an aside, is no stranger to SPAC) has several concerts this spring, with the good seats going for $300 each. I’ll bet you there are more than a few people in Washington wishing they had missed their train that day.           

John Gray
John Gray
John Gray is an Emmy-winning journalist and writer. In addition to his 32 years of television experience, John is the author of three children's books and two novels. He is married with three children. He and his lovely wife Courtney have five dogs, three of them are rescues with special needs. They make their quiet home in Rensselaer County.

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