Moments of Beauty

Moments of beauty


One of the defining characteristics of our time is the incredible busyness of our lives. We have established a culture that admires people who can plan, set goals, ‘achieve a lot in a day’, multi-task, meet deadlines and generally get a lot done. As a result, we lead busy lives, are often in a rush and are experiencing the highest levels of stress and anxiety on record.

A social experiment took place a few years ago in collaboration with the Washington Post that was designed to see what would happen if you created a moment of beauty in an environment where people were busy. Would they recognize that moment? Would they stop, even for a few seconds to acknowledge or experience that moment?

At 7.51am on Friday 12 January 2007, in the middle of the morning rush hour, a violinist opened his violin case and started playing, just inside L’Enfant Plaza Metro entrance in the busy center of Washington DC. He played for 43 minutes and during that time, 1,097 people passed by him.

How many of the passers-by do you think paused to acknowledge or briefly listen to the music?

Before I answer that, here are some more facts. The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most acclaimed violinists in the world. The previous evening, he had performed a concert in Boston which was sold out. The violin that he used was a Stradivarius worth approx. $3.5m and he performed six classical pieces, three from Bach, one Massenet, and one each from Schubert and Ponce. All considered to be among the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.

So, how many of the 1,097 passers-by stopped?

Seven people actually stopped and listened.

27 gave money and he made $52.17, including a $20 note from someone who recognized him.

Here is the short form video of that morning:

Just seven people!

In a world where we are just too busy, too preoccupied, too uncurious, or even simply disinterested in the best that classical music has to offer. I’m sure that social scientists had logical explanations for what happened but really? Just seven people?

We live in this world and truth be told, it’s probably a lot busier now than it was in 2007. It goes without saying that if we are not mindful, it is possible that we can allow ourselves to become so busy that we do not have the time or energy to experience the beauty, wonder and mystery of life.

Music expresses all of those facets of being human. It can inspire us, nurture us, remind us, tell us stories, uplift us, open our heart and make us jump out of our seat in joy! It’s at our fingertips and we can access it anytime. It is healing medicine for the soul.

When people walk past my music room at home, I am sure that some think ‘that’s a big indulgence…’ I acknowledge that it probably is and I am extremely fortunate and grateful that I have the luxury and opportunity to have such a space in my life.

However, to me it is part of an antidote to the effect that the onslaught of a busy life has on my soul. I am able to go into that space and wash away the tension of the day, resolve my thoughts, balance my psyche and re-charge… all while feeling privileged to experience another person’s emotional message, communicated through their voice or instrument.

I would also like to hope that my love of music in some way keeps my senses and attention tuned to notice the small moments of beauty that arise in daily life. A great coffee, a smile from a stranger, the laughter of a child, or any moment that arises from the mire of busyness.

Perhaps an appreciation for music (or any of the arts) develops within us a sensitivity for those moments that hold a bit of creativity, magic or mystery.

What do you think?

Does your love of music help you to notice moments of beauty?