The virtuoso of L’ Enfant Plaza
By David Moore
He stood against a wall in the L’Enfant Plaza station of the
Washington Metrorail system. Dressed in jeans and T-shirt and wearing a
Washington Nationals baseball cap, he played the violin for nearly an hour as
more than a 1,000 commuters passed within 3 feet.
The instrument’s case lay open, inviting donations from
those who deemed his music worthy of a contribution.
These were not ordinary commuters. Almost all were
government workers — financial forecasters, policy analysts and project
But the fiddler was no ordinary street musician. As an
experiment, The Washington Post prearranged the morning of Jan. 12, 2007, for
world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell to position himself in the most
conspicuous location possible and perform.
The Post wanted to know how many passersby would recognize
beauty and genius and stop to acknowledge it. So here was 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,” wrote staff writer
Three days earlier Bell had played to a packed Symphony Hall
in Boston, where most had paid more than $100 apiece. Two weeks later he
performed before a North Bethesda, Md., standing-room-only crowd in awe and
hushed silence, bedazzled by the deft blending of sound and movement.
The conveyer of Bell’s brilliance at L’Enfant Plaza was the
same instrument he always plays, handmade by Antonio Stradivari in 1713.
His music consisted of some of the most difficult-to-master
pieces. But just seven of the nearly 1,100 passersby paused for at least a
minute to listen. Twenty-seven dropped money in the violin case, $32 and change
by the end of the performance for a man whose talents can command $1,000 a
It’s one thing to be in the presence of a world-renowned
virtuoso and miss the beauty and splendor of his artistry. It’s quite another
to ignore and miss the God of the universe who seeks to reveal himself to us
with fresh insight and truth every day.
Paul tells us “since the creation of the world God’s
invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have
been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Romans 1:20,
All of us have ignored the Lord more than we’d want to
admit. Like the virtuoso, His beauty and splendor are before us, calling for
our attention. But God’s performance never ends.
Unlike the virtuoso, He offers far more than human
brilliance. For “the God who made the world and everything in it … is not
served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all
men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:24,25).
This God created us with a soul — with desires,
longing for meaning, love, transcendence, a moral conscience, and an instinct
for eternity. It is into this vessel God wants to reveal himself. He wants us
to be so in tune with His nature that wherever we are or are going, we will
stop and recognize His presence and the splendor of His ways, listening as He
speaks truth into our lives.
The majority of commuters would have recognized the young
man standing against the wall playing his violin had they taken the time to
look his way.
Only one person recognized the world-renowned virtuoso. She
described it as “the most astonishing thing I’ve ever seen. Joshua Bell was
standing there playing at rush hour, and people were not stopping, not even
Like the commuters, many of us are so caught up in our own
world we often fail to recognize the God of the universe who is always so near.
Not even the disciples recognized Jesus shortly after His resurrection. They
were in a boat, having fished all night with no results.
John records that “Jesus stood on the shore, but the
disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends,
haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered” (John 21:4,5). Though they were
close enough to hear His voice, they did not recognize Jesus.
But they cast their nets on the opposite side of the boat as
He suggested. Immediately their nets were filled with fish. Then one disciple
finally recognized who was standing on the shore. John called out, “It is the
God’s purpose in creating and placing us where we are is so
we would “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not
far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). But seeking for something is valuable to
us only so far as finding it is precious.
The L’Enfant Plaza travelers did not recognize the virtuoso
because they were not seeking or paying attention. And we will not recognize
the presence of God if we are not seeking Him.
The one person who recognized the virtuoso summed up her
reaction, “I was thinking, What kind of a city do I live in that this could
More importantly, what kind of existence do we live where
God is all around us yet we fail to look His way, to recognize the beauty and
splendor of His presence, and the wisdom of His ways?
DAVID MOORE is special projects coordinator for Convoy of
Hope in Springfield, Mo.
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