Welcome to Violinist.com! Log in, or join the community!


Facebook Twitter Google+ Email Newsletter

Busking For Life

By Karen Rile
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Published: August 28, 2014 at 22:38


I hadn't even heard the term "busking"until my kids told me that they wanted to do it. When they did, I grabbed a dictionary: to play music or otherwise perform for voluntary donations in the street. That seemed a little—how could I put it?—unsavory. Or, on second thought, maybe not. We'd spent, after all, thousands in lessons and instruments, which they had worked hard to learn how to play. Maybe it would be a lesson in personal economics, like a lemonade stand.

The girls were eight and ten at the time, and their goal was to earn enough to buy a Playmobil Grand Mansion dollhouse from the toy store up the street. The dream dollhouse was a very large and, I thought, unattractive object comprised of hundreds of tiny parts, something I really did not want inside my life-size house. And it cost over a hundred dollars, which I doubted they would be able to earn. I gave them the go-ahead to busk, expecting they'd earn a few dollars and spend it on ice cream.

They made their goal in a single afternoon. Apparently, little kids playing Bach are hard to resist, so the empty half-size violin case they'd set out on the corner with its hand-lettered sign, "Busking for a Doll House", quickly filled with cash. Their dollhouse, purchased and painstakingly assembled, took over the living room.

Next week they went out to busk some more.

Ours is in a quirky but pleasant urban neighborhood where cops patrol their beat on horseback and neighbors plant free lending libraries in their front yards. We have a lot of garden festivals and craft fairs where you'll see street musicians, both those hired by the business association and those playing for tips. Even on ordinary week days, our main street, lined with restaurants and coffee shops is a perfect place for busking. You don't need a permit like you do downtown or in the subway. Passers-by are friendly—no one shrieks at you to be quiet or tries to rip you off— and, rather than shooing you away from their stores, shop keepers cheer you on. Busking draws a crowd, and crowds are good for business.

I was never a hundred percent pro-busking when my kids were growing up because it ate into practice time. And you could hardly call it high-quality performing. Busking is something you do as a treat after your chores are done. It's a specialized skill: you don't play your real repertoire. You play arrangements, pieces that are recognizable, or at least easily digestible. Audiences want Pachelbel, not Paganini. You need to be able to grin back at dancing toddlers while their mothers pepper you with questions about Suzuki method and the best age to start lessons. You have to field requests ("Do you know anything by Beyoncé?") But the pay is great.

When they were younger my kids often busked to raise funds for charity. Once, outside of Starbucks, they earned a record-breaking $300 in less than an hour for earthquake rescue efforts in Haiti. The Starbucks manager brought them free Frappuccinos because they were attracting so many thirsty customers. Then the manager from the cheese store up the street came out and told them they could play in front of his place any time. Over the years my kids and their friends have done a lot busking, in lots of different cities. One of my daughters now lives in New York, where she busks in Central Park with friends whenever she can fit in a spare hour or two. Even though she's a far better musician now than at age eight, the take isn't as good there as it was years ago back home—only about $50/hour. Or maybe the take is lower because she's grown up.

It's been years since she busked in the neighborhood. When she's home now busking is the last thing on her mind. She's focused on the family, or practicing in the quiet of our house, or getting ready for a real performance. But I'll admit I miss walking up the street and hearing the sound of her Bach traveling on the wind.

Photo credit:Brian Fass, Bethesda Fountain, Central Park

Before my kids started busking I barely noticed street musicians. But now I give money to all of them, no matter what they're playing or how well. It's a compulsion shared by many parents of musicians. I start digging in my wallet as soon as I hear the music: the erhu player outside the Art Institute; the subway saxophonist; the accordion player in lederhosen with a stuffed monkey clipped to his shoulder. I can't walk by without stopping, and listening, and giving.

The other day I was out walking my dogs when I heard a faint but unmistakable sound: a fakebook arrangement of "Some Enchanted Evening". The busker I found when I rounded the corner was 87-year-old Patricia Woods Sellers, tapping away on a portable keyboard plugged into the electric supply of the hardware store. I stood there, my dogs wagging their tails, held in place by her jaunty, indomitable style.

I know it's not polite to talk to buskers, but I also know they're adept at talking while they play. So I asked if I could photograph her (she was all for it) and I asked her about herself. She told me that in 2011 she was fired from her job of 24 years at our neighborhood Cricket Club. (I don't belong, but yes, our neighborhood has a Cricket Club.)

"New management took over and they got rid of the old," she said, smiling dryly without missing a beat. Without a real piano now (she had to sell hers, she said) she makes do with a borrowed keyboard, busking for tips on the sidewalk in good weather.

I don't know the real story behind the employment dispute, but if you do the math, this 87-year-old was 84 in 2011 when she was let go. And here she is, dignified, beautiful, and playing well. "I'm here mostly on Saturdays," she said. If the weather's good this weekend, I'm going back to look for her. I want to hear her while I can, before the chill of winter.


Submit Comment | Archive Link

Maths/Violin + Practice = Ability (true)

By John Berger
Melbourne, Australia
Published: August 27, 2014 at 23:20

Some time ago one of my father's business friends called me, asking if I could tutor his 13 year old daughter in maths. She was lagging behind everyone else in the class, he said. I explained to him that I only taught violin, not mathematics. Although I'd taken it at university for a couple of years and still had an intermittent interest, I suggested he would be better off with an experienced maths tutor. Nevertheless he persisted, so I reluctantly agreed to give it a go.

Carly was a conscientious student who'd lost confidence due to a string of poor test results. I wrote out for her a few problems similar to the ones she'd had trouble with. While there was little wrong with comprehension, some of her processes and calculations revealed some basic errors.

Unsure what to do, I started from scratch, systematically going through the multiplication tables with her until we discovered a few uncertain areas. After a bit of work on these, I set some Kumon-like repetitive homework on these tables to be practised daily - violin style. Carly got the idea and practised every day. At our next session the mistakes caused by multiplication were gone, so we moved on to the next source of errors - long division. Each week thereafter we continued on like this, adding more fundamental skills and processes to be practised along with the others. During the next four or five weeks she fixed everything and I marvelled how quick it had been.

It got me thinking. I'd seen how Carly's maths textbooks focused mainly on problem-solving and comprehension exercises. Essentially it required translating questions and problems into mathematical forms before carrying out the calculations. This was fine, but there was less emphasis on fluency in the processes and calculations themselves, and it was hard for students to identify what skills they needed to practise to perfection. Also, at school it was normal for a proportion of the class to continually make mistakes of one kind or another - despite lessons moving on to new mathematical areas. Only a handful ever got 100%.

Musicians wouldn't (or shouldn't) study this way. As you know, we build ability by practising a skill, technique, passage or piece over and over correctly until it is a part of us. Then we try to solve the problem of how to interpret and communicate the music. It showed me again, as if I needed persuading, the value and benefits of studying violin. It teaches you how to learn. Carly's remarkable turnaround showed the folly of leaping into concepts of creative thinking and problem solving, without completing the task of building real skill and ability through simple practice.



This is a link to teachsuzukiviolin.com

Comments (1) | Submit Comment | Archive Link

Indianapolis: Prepare for a Violin Takeover! Competition and VSA Convention start next month

By Laurie Niles
Published: August 26, 2014 at 21:19

If you love the violin, you might consider coming to Indianapolis next month. Why? You will be able to watch dozens of the world's finest young violinists perform over two weeks, and you also can examine and even play instruments from hundreds of the world's finest modern makers.

This violin takeover of Indianapolis is called the "Festival of the Violin," and it's a confluence of two events: the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis (IVCI) and the Violin Society of America's annual convention and biennial instrument competition. The IVCI begins Sept. 5, then the VSA convention starts Sept. 15; both end Sept. 21. It's the first time these two events have occurred simultaneously, and the result is a true celebration of the best in both violin playing and violin making.

We've put together a little preview, to give you an idea of what will be happening:

The Ninth Quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis

Forty violinists ages 16-28, will compete in the IVCI for more than $250,000 in prizes, career management, international concert engagements, a Carnegie Hall recital debut and the use of the 1683 "ex-Gingold" Stradivarius. The violinists -- chosen from 179 violinists from 31 countries -- represent 12 countries, including Australia, Finland, France, China, Greece, Japan, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Ukraine, and the United States. They will be judged by an international panel of nine jurists. Preliminary rounds begin Sept. 7, with the laureates announced Sept. 20.

Clara-Jumi Kang

2010 IVCI First-Place Laureate Clara-Jumi Kang performs in the Finals. Photo by Denis Ryan Kelly, Jr.

COMPETITION ROUNDS: (click here for detailed repertoire requirements for each round):

  • Preliminary Rounds: Sept. 7-10 at the Indiana History Center. Repertoire: Bach unaccompanied movements; two Paganini Caprices; a Mozart Sonata; Encore piece
  • Semi-Finals: Sept. 12-15 at the Indiana History Center. Repertoire: Beethoven Sonata; Late-Romantic or Modern Sonata; Tone Poem/Concert piece; Commissioned work: "Fantasy for Solo Violin" by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
  • Classical Finals with the East Coast Chamber Orchestra: Sept. 17-18 at the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center. Repertoire: Haydn or Mozart Concerto
  • Finals with Indianapolis Symphony: Sept. 19-20 at the Hilbert Circle Theatre. Repertoire: Romantic or Modern Concerto
  • Gala Awards and Reception: Sept. 21 at the Scottish Rite Cathedral

Some of the other IVCI events of interest will include:

  • Pre-Concert Discussion: Creating an Artistic Identity, with Joel Smirnoff. (7 p.m. Sept. 17, Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center)
  • Pre-Concert Discussion: Instant Access to Classical Music News and Reviews, with Violinist.com Founder Laurie Niles (me!); Violin Channel Founder Geoffrey John; and Classical Music Blogger, Jay Harvey. (7 p.m. Sept. 19, Hilbert Circle Theatre)
  • Violin Quality and the Paris Experiment, with Claudia Fritz, Joseph Curtin, Fan-Chia Tao, Cho-Liang Lin and Philip Setzer. (10 a.m. Sept. 20, Indiana History Center)
  • Old vs. New: During final deliberations, audience members will see if they can tell the difference between fine 17th- and 18th-c. violins and fine modern violins. (Post-Final Concert, Sept. 20, Hilbert Circle Theatre)

For 2014, the international jury includes Jaime Laredo (Jury President), Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Miriam Fried, Dong-Suk Kang, Boris Kuschnir, Cho-Liang Lin, Philip Setzer, Dmitry Sitkovetsky and Kyoko Takezawa.

Jaime Laredo Ellen-Taaffe-Zwilich Miriam-Fried
Dong-Suk-Kang Boris-Kuschnir Cho-Liang-Lin
Philip-Setzer Dmitry-Sitkovetsky Kyoko-Takezawaz

About the IVCI: The IVCI was founded in 1982 under the artistic guidance of the late Indiana University professor of violin, Josef Gingold (1909-1995) and takes place every four years. You can find a complete list of past laureates here; some include Clara-Jumi Kang, Benjamin Beilman, Augustin Hadelich, Simone Lamsma, Yura Lee, Bella Hristova, Soovin Kim, Judith Ingolfsson, Stefan Milenkovich, David Kim, Leonidas Kavakos, Andrés Cárdenes, Ida Kavafian and Yuval Yaron. You can read our coverage of previous IVCI competitions at violinist.com/indianapolis.

The Violin Society of America's 42nd Annual Convention and 21st International Competition for Makers

Hundreds of violin, viola, cello, bass and bow makers will gather for the Violin Society of America's annual convention, which will include lectures and seminars on violin-making and related topics, as well as the biennial VSA Competition.

For musicians, this creates a unique opportunity to see a wide variety of modern instruments, all in one place. One important event that is free to the public is the New Instrument Exhibit, which will take place Sept. 17-20 at the Hyatt Regency. "Musicians can come in and try those instruments and bows any time during the day," said VSA President Chris Germain.

VSA judging

Another place to find fine modern instruments will be the Competition Instrument Exhibit on Sept. 19, when the winning instruments from the 2014 VSA Competition for Makers will be displayed and also played by the Tone Judges. This year, the competition has attracted entries from 312 separate makers, representing 26 countries. Countries most-represented are the U.S. with 150 competitors, and China with 69. There are 16 from France, 15 from Italy, 14 from Canada. At this point, the competition has a total of 542 entries, including 246 violins, 110 violas, 69 cellos, 9 basses, 80 bows, and 28 instrument quartets. Instruments will be judged over a three-day period for each category, with awards including a Certificate of Merit for Tone, Certificate of Merit for Workmanship, and for overall Gold and Silver medals, given prior to the exhibit, at a Sept. 18 banquet.

VSA display

In addition, the VSA Convention will feature lectures, workshops, exhibits and concerts on a broad range of topics. Here are some highlights:


  • New Instrument Exhibit -- free admission to public (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 17-18-20; and 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Sept. 19; Network Room, Hyatt Regency)
  • Lecture: The Rugeri Family: A Bridge from Amati to Bergonzi, with Carlo Chiesa (2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sept. 17; Discovery Room, Hyatt Regency)
  • Ivory Import Issue Panel, with Yung Chin, Colin Gallahue, John Bennett (3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sept. 17; Discovery Room, Hyatt Regency)
  • Lecture: Did the “mini Ice Age” prior to 1781 Create “Special” Old Wood Not Found Today? with Steve Sirr and John Waddle (9 to 10 a.m., Sept. 18; Discovery Room, Hyatt Regency)
  • Play, Listen, Measure, Intervene: an Integrated Approach to Optimizing Violin Sound, with Claudia Fritz, Joseph Curtin, Fan-Chia Tao (2:30-3:30 p.m. Sept. 18; Discovery Room, Hyatt Regency)
  • Playing of the Award Winning Instruments by Tone Judges (1 to 1:45 p.m. Sept. 19; Indiana History Center)
  • Competition Instrument Exhibit -- free student admission with current ID (8 to 11:30 a.m. and 6 to 10 p.m. Sept. 19; Regency Ballroom)
  • Violin Quality and the Paris Experiment, with Claudia Fritz, Joseph Curtin, Fan-Chia Tao, Cho-Liang Lin,Philip Setzer -- free admission to public (10 to 11:30 a.m. Sept. 20; Indiana History Center)
  • Vendor Retail Shop, instruments, bows, strings, accessories, cases, etc. (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 20; Cosmopolitan Ballroom)

"There's going to be a lot going on, and it's going to be a very exciting event," Germain said. "We're really at a time when the art of violin- and bow-making is at a very high level, and that's reflected in the numbers of people who come to the conventions and competitions and the quality of the work that you see and hear there. It is a world-class event, and probably the largest instrument-making competition in the world."

About the VSA: The VSA was founded in 1973 to promote the art and science of making, repairing, preservation and restoration of stringed musical instruments and their bows. Membership in the VSA is open to all who share an interest in the violin, viola, cello, bass and their bows, and reflects a broad and diverse range of interests including craftsmanship, acoustics, innovation, the history of the instruments and performers, technique, performance practice and repertory. The VSA, jointly with Oberlin College, sponsors summer workshops in violin and bow making, restoration, and acoustics.

Submit Comment | Archive Link


By Bram Heemskerk
Waddinxveen, Netherlands
Published: August 26, 2014 at 16:10

In my village some people took the initiative to make artistic graffiti of some composers because some streets had the name of these composers like Bachstreet, Beethovenstreet, Chopinstreet, Mozartstreet. Nobody spoils the drawings who last here for 1 year. This is the result of this tunnel, named after our king (here still prince)Willem Alexander.

Here an example of "normal" Graffiti:

Comments (2) | Submit Comment | Archive Link

More top blog entries from Violinist.com members

Galamian's Principles of the Violin

Galamian's Principles Long one of the standards for violin teachers and students, Ivan Galamian's Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching offers both principles and practice exercises to help develop violinists of all ages and abilities. This new edition includes a foreword by Sally Thomas.

Get it now! In Paperback | For Kindle

Aaron Rosand

Interview: Aaron Rosand

To speak to violinist Aaron Rosand is to gain a sense of what it was like to come of age as a violinist in the mid 20th century.
Part One | Part Two