Paying Attention to the Joshua Bells Around Us

As Judy Kleinfeld recently reminded WC, we too often fail to appreciate the beauty around us.

In January 2007, world-acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell played as a busker at L’Enfant metro station in Washington, D.C. WC isn’t a huge fan of classical music, but Bell is an astonishing violinist. And he was playing a Stradivarius, the very archetype of a violin. The whole thing was a set up by the Washington Post, a sociology experiment. There’s a video link. The details are fascinating.

More than a thousand people walked by oblivious to the artist, the music and the instrument. Seven people stopped to listen.

WC is a folk music fan, of course. And the wonderful Joni Mitchell did a marvelous song on a very similar subject

I slept last night in a good hotel
I went shopping today for jewels.
The wind rushed around in the dirty town
and the children let out from the schools.

I was standing on a noisy corner
waiting for the walking green
Across the street he stood, and he played real good
on his clarinet for free.

Now me, I play for fortunes
and the velvet curtain calls.
I got a black limosine and a few gentlemen
escorting me to these halls.

And I’ll play if you have the money
or if you’re a friend to me.
But the one-man-band by the quick lunch stand,
he was playing real good for free.

Nobody stopped to hear him,
though he played so sweet and high.
They knew he had never been on their TV
so they passed his good music by.

I meant to go over and ask for a song,
maybe put on a harmony.
I heard his refrain as that signal changed,
he was still playing real good for free.

Joni Mitchell, “For Free,” Ladies of the Canyon (1970)

We don’t have to be oblivious to beauty around us. We don’t have to be in such a hurry that we blow by Joshua Bell, or ignore the talented busker on the street corner. We don’t have to overlook Denali itself, peeking over the horizon as we drive in to work on a clear morning. We can pause and listen to the lovely song of a Pine Grosbeak as we walk out for the newspaper.

The best compliment WC has received as a photographer came after a visit to Deception Island, where a shipmate walked with WC as we wandered around a small part of the immense caldera. WC showed his photos to the shipmate afterwards, and she said, “I feel like I was on a different walk; I didn’t see any of this.”

But WC would probably have walked by Joshua Bell, too.

Appreciate what is around you. Take a moment. Life is short. No one lays on their deathbed and says, “I didn’t spend enough time at the office. I spent too much time admiring rainbows.”

There are Joshua Bells all around us. Take the time.


2 thoughts on “Paying Attention to the Joshua Bells Around Us

  1. The point was hypocrisy and superiority. Social snobbery without substance. The point was that Joshua Bell played the previous night to a sold-out audience with $300 tickets, to people who couldn’t appreciate the sound or recognize a Stradivarius (the instrument itself has its own famous story) if they saw it in the train station. Literally.

    Just one young Chinese woman gave the moment the honor it deserved. She was shocked and transfixed. She just could not believe he was standing there playing in front of her.
    I wish I had been there; what a remarkable thing that no concert hall performance would recreate.

    Joshua Bell played in Anchorage, Alaska when he was 17 years old. Mendelssohn’s violin concerto in E minor. I sat in the third row back, five seats over, audience left, directly in front of the violin.

    • WC respectfully disagrees. Even on the crummy streamed audio, both Bell and the music are superb. It’s about priorities, and recognizing worth when it doesn’t come in a tux in a spiffy concert hall.


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