Are we so occupied by everyday life that we fail to recognize the sublime music of the Spirit?
On Jan. 12, 2007, a man dressed in jeans and a T-shirt walked into a Washington, D.C., subway station, pulled a violin from its case, and began to play.¹ He put his soul into the performance, sometimes pounding his bow against the strings, sometimes gently caressing them to bring out soft and sorrowful tones.
As he played, more than a thousand commuters passed through the train station on their way to work. They had busy days ahead of them: lists of things to do, worries, and troubles. Their minds were occupied with everyday trivial things—like where and what to eat for lunch, how their favorite sports team was doing, or whether anyone would notice their new glasses. Some, undoubtedly, were wrestling with greater problems: a challenging health diagnosis, relationships that were unraveling, financial loss, or some other pressing anxiety.
In short, these people were people like you and me: unwrapping the gift of a new day, even the gift of a brand-new year, but consumed with the trivial and tragic, the petty and profound.
Did they notice the musician? Or was the man with the violin merely part of the impressionistic blur that shaded the all-too-familiar backdrop of their daily lives?
What these commuters did not know was that this musician was no ordinary violinist, he was playing no ordinary instrument, and he was playing no ordinary music.
The man’s name was Joshua Bell—one of the most accomplished musicians in the world. The violin he played was handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari. Joshua Bell had purchased it a few years earlier for an estimated $3.5 million. And the music he played was some of the most challenging and beautiful ever composed.
This whole experience had been set up by a journalist from the Washington Post who was curious to know what would happen if a world-class musician gave an anonymous, virtuoso performance in the walkways of an ordinary subway station.
Of the nearly 1,100 people who passed by Joshua Bell during his 45-minute performance, only “seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute.”²
One person who had passed within four feet of Bell later could not recall that he had even seen a musician on his way to work. As it turns out, this man had been wearing earbuds, listening to a favorite rock song on his personal play-list. Ironically, the lyrics of the song were about failing to see the beauty right before your eyes.
The lesson this story teaches is profound. Not only does it tell us something important about life and living, it reveals important insight into our spiritual lives as well.
We sometimes get so caught up in the grind of everyday life that we fail to recognize the sublime voice of the Spirit and disregard the profound and beautiful message our loving Heavenly Father imparts to us.
This experiment can prompt us to look inside our hearts and ask, “Can I hear the music of the Spirit?” Can we hear the gentle call of our beloved Savior, who invites us to come and follow Him? Do we hear His voice? Or is life too rushed? Too busy or burdened? Too filled with the thousand daily things that demand our attention?
My beloved brothers and sisters, my dear friends, I testify that our loving Father in Heaven is reaching out to you. The Savior is speaking to you: “Come, follow me” (Luke 18:22). In every hour of the day and throughout the night, He communicates through the divine music of the Spirit.
Can you hear it?
1. Story taken from Gene Weingarten, “Pearls Before Breakfast: Can One of the Nation’s Great Musicians Cut Through the Fog of a D.C. Rush Hour? Let’s Find Out,” Washington Post, April 8, 2007.
2. Weingarten, “Pearls Before Breakfast.”
This essay is adapted from a devotional address delivered Jan. 15, 2019, by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Read, watch, or listen to the full address at speeches.byu.edu.