Pearls Before Breakfast

Sometimes it’s helpful to turn our eyes to look at the news with the eyes of faith. The below article appeared a while back, and it’s a remarkable piece. Read it to see if you can’t hear God whispering to you, calling you to pay attention to goodness…

Pearls Before Breakfast, Gene Weingarten (The Washington Post)

He emerged from the metro at the L'Enfant Plaza station and positioned himself against a wall beside a trash basket. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play .

It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Each passerby had a quick choice to make: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? What if he's really good? Do you have time for beauty? 

No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall at the top of the escalators was 39-year-old Joshua Bell, one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made, a $3.5 million Stradivarius. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities – in a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend? 

Later that same morning, Bell sat in a hotel restaurant picking at his breakfast and trying to figure out what just happened.   "It was a strange feeling, that people were actually, ah…"  The word doesn't come easily.  "… ignoring me."

No crowd ever gathered for Bell at L'Enfant Plaza, not even for a second.  In fact, for the nearly three quarters of an hour that he played, only seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around, at least briefly, and take in the performance. Three days before he appeared at the Metro station, Bell had filled the house at Boston's stately Symphony Hall, where merely pretty good seats went for $100.  But in the Metro station his open violin case collected only $32 and change. 

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away. 

Here is a 1 minute video of Bell playing in the metro station.

Adapted from "Pearls Before Breakfast" by Gene Weingarten, <>