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Ruth Kuefler

Busking and Keeping Busy

March 16, 2008 at 10:20 PM

I've always wanted to try my hand at busking, and on Friday I celebrated the start of spring break by playing my violin in downtown Lawrence. I've wanted to try busking for a while, but was a little nervous about playing music by myself. So I grabbed coffee with one of my friends and she stuck around while I started playing. I picked a spot downtown that was in the middle of the block, but intersected with a little aleyway. There was a nice little ledge off to the side that I could sit on and prop my violin case against. I just unpacked my violin and played the first fiddle tune that came to mind. I didn't think to put any seed money in my case, but people started dropping in dollar bills almost immediately. I played all the fiddle tunes I could think of: strathspeys, waltzes, reels . . . I hadn't really planned anything out, though I kind of wish I had. I found myself running out of music, so I repeated everything. I wanted to try some classical pieces as well, so I played some Bach that I'd been teaching my students lately. People seemed to like the classical just as much as the fiddle stuff, which was encouraging. Although, I did have this one weird thing happen. I was playing some Boccherini and this one guy came by and said (in what sounded to me like kind of a mean voice), "Go back to the conservatory, orch dork!" And yet, he still gave me money so . . . hah, that was kind of weird. I'm hoping he was just kidding. But overall I loved the experience. It gave me a chance to brush up on fiddle tunes that I hadn't played for ages. My favorite part though, was watching the little kids. They'd just stop and stare, entranced by the sound. If I smiled at them, they always smiled back too. It was so cute. :) And you know another cool part? I actually earned a decent amount of money. I only played for an hour and a half, but there was about $30 in my case when I was finished. That's as much as I earn teaching! I definitely have to go busking more often. It makes me want to expand my fiddle repertoire. I've resolved to practice at least one fiddle tune a day. I also want to figure out a collection of classical pieces that would work.

I'm glad I discovered the joys of busking — I think it'll be a fun project to give me a break from all the busyness of classes and rehearsals. I feel like I have so much responsibility this semester. Orchestra, chamber music, and recitals are keeping me very busy. It's been kind of hard figuring out how to prioritize it all. As concertmaster, I feel obligated to devote a lot of time to learning the music. We just got the music for out next concert a couple weeks ago, and I've been scrambling to learn the part. We're doing Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture, Tchaik 5, and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (with Brian Lewis as soloist). The Tchaikovsky in particular is a real challenge, both because of the length and the technical difficulty. I'm also playing a lot of chamber music right now: sonatas with three different pianists as well as a string nonet. On the one hand, it's great because I love chamber music. But on the other hand, it's a little overwhelming to have that many people rely on me. I feel kind of bad because I haven't had as much time to practice my solo repertoire over the last couple weeks. Over spring break I have some time to finish getting the orchestra part under my fingers, and the chamber music I'm learning isn't particularly challenging, just a time commitment. I should be able to get back into a more balanced schedule once the term resumes. Even though I'm so busy, I'm happier this semester than last semester. Orchestra and chamber music keep me motivated and challenged, and help to make up for the lack of learning that goes on in my private lessons. I'm still pretty sure I want to transfer for my junior year, but until then, I know what to do to stay busy and motivated.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on March 17, 2008 at 7:14 AM
I sometimes get paying gigs for solo classical music, and to prepare, I pull out my Classical Fake Book. It has a tremendous amount of the classical literature in it: the themes from each movement of each Branenburg Cto, Themes from Bach Cantatas and keyboard pieces, the main theme from every movement of every symphony by Beethoven, themes from many of Beethoven's piano pieces, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (complete), The Four Seasons, themes from each movement of each symphony by Tchaik, themes from a lot of Tchaik incidental music and ballet, songs by Gilbert and Sullivan, etc. The book is about 600 pages long and has something for everyone. A disadvantage is that everything is given in the key in which it was written (a lot of Tchaik in 5 flats, etc.) and not specifically written or arranged for violin. This book is a fantastic resource, and it's so much fun to play by yourself, with a friend, or for gigs.
From Ruth Kuefler
Posted on March 17, 2008 at 1:47 PM
Oh, awesome! Thanks Pauline, I'll have to look into that. :)
From Tom Holzman
Posted on March 17, 2008 at 4:07 PM
I think busking is great. Good for you! Fake books are good, but almost anything should work, stuff you are working on for orch or your lessons, show tunes, whatever. Keep it up!
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on March 17, 2008 at 4:55 PM
I busked for the first time last summer, at a Farmers' Market. I also bought a classical fake book after that on Pauline's recommendation. I thought it was especially useful for songs like "Come Back to Sorrento." "O Sole Mio" was popular too, and some madrigal-like songs by Purcell.

And the list of requested songs that John Henry Gates offered in this thread looks really good too. I haven't gotten through it all myself--it's still way too cold to busk around here--but the Farmers' Market opening day is coming up in June, and I'm hoping to be prepared.

From Eitan Silkoff
Posted on March 17, 2008 at 9:42 PM
If you want a nice busking experience, go to south bank in London. I made like 150 dollars in an hour and a half :)

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