I am a busker.
Busking is the art of performing live music, dance, magic, or other entertaining acts in public places to solicit tips.
Though the term "busker" is widespread in most English-speaking countries, in the USA such artists are referred to as “street performers” or “street musicians.” Buskers are usually musicians but can also be actors, clowns, gypsy tarot card readers, mimes or dancers.
There is a definite societal split in favour or against buskers, especially in North America. Some people support buskers and find it adds cultural flavour and art to our streets, making it more European and artsy. Sadly, some view busking as a lowly, hungry practice reserved for the homeless, beggars and unsuccessful performers. These are the people who push to have busking forbidden and occasionally have their way.
A few years back in Vancouver, Canada the local government was looking to forbid “busking and panhandling.” I was one angry young busker in relatively near-by Nelson, BC who found the use of “busker” and “panhandler” in the same sentence appalling. These politicians obviously overlooked that panhandling is doing nothing for money, whereas busking is hard work! With enough pressure from many outraged artists and supportive
audience members the ban was reversed.
I’m not saying all buskers are worth defending. The talentless vagrant tooting one note on a beer bottle flute for hours on end does not inspire one to fork over an entire money clip, nor does the scabby drunk abusing his ramshackle guitar on the pavement outside the liquor store.
But, strangely, even these people manage to find an audience. Some passers by will throw a few nickels there way in pity and others will even pay them to stop, as a high school friend of mine once experienced. A woman had placed $20 in her violin case and pleaded the young player to seek lessons pronto. Ouch.
On the flipside, many buskers are highly talented and respected artists who add ambience and flavour to a community street scene or park. I was in Europe one summer and experienced musicians on street corners in Germany, Italy and France who easily rivaled some of Canada’s top classical artists.
My favourite busking group on the trip was Munich, Germany’s violin, flute, oboe and bass ensemble “Tal Consort.” The group consisted of the most talented classical musicians I’ve seen in ages playing their unique arrangements of Rossini overtures. It was amazing watching virtuosos in concert outside a bank!
If the buskers in Europe were that good, I thought, then how good are their concert musicians? Well, it turned out many of these players were concert professionals out for the afternoon to make some extra cash or just to play for the fun of it. The Tal Consort has a few CDs out (I picked one up) and was out to entertain the tourists for extra practice. Other musicians are playing for exposure and waiting for their big break.
Many famous groups and superstars started their careers as buskers and moved on to further greatness. Examples include the music and acrobatics group Cirque Du Soleil, percussion sensation Stomp, comedians Bob Hope, George Burns and Robin Williams, actor Pierce Brosnan and musicians Rod Stewart, Dolly Parton, Eric Clapton, Simon and Garfunkel, Beck and Joni Mitchell.
Heck, even world-famous American violin virtuoso Joshua Bell has busked. He was part of a scientific stunt by the Washington Post to prove their idea that the general public is too busy to stop and “smell the roses” or appreciate fine music in disguise. Bell, clad in a loose long sleeved t-shirt, jeans and a baseball cap, played for under an hour in a busy metro plaza station during early morning rush hour to 1,097 commuters hurrying to get to work on time.
In the end Bell made a paltry, insulting sum of money and only a few people had stopped to listen to his music. Bell found “the awkward times," after ending a piece to silence very humbling. No recognition or applause from anyone. The concert musician also gained a whole new appreciation for the craft of busking and discovered it’s not as easy as it looks.
I’m a seasoned busker, having busked since age 16. I had played with my case open one day after school and watched the coins pour in from fellow students. My best friend and I played many locations and pieces of music and learned which combinations worked. When other kids were flipping burgers and babysitting for $4.25 an hour, we were bringing in up to $50 per hour. Our location at Save-On-Drugs paid for Christmas gifts, violin
strings and fast food burgers for the next three years.
Busking became my regular after school “job,” but also came in handy during times of a financial pinch. During a college road trip very far from home I found both my gas tank and wallet empty and made up the gas money in only 30 minutes of fiddling. Many airports on the way to visit family paid for travel snacks and six week’s busking in San Diego’s Balboa Park funded my immigration to Canada!
The days of busking taught me about performing and marketing and gave me a firm grounding in entrepreneurship. It was also great fun and valuable time with my instrument. Now, as a teacher, I continually encourage my students of all ages and skill levels to try busking. But learn the tricks to the trade and busk well.
Kids are born with dollar signs in their eyes and love the idea of making extra money, but their parents are usually more wary. I explain that busking is not earning money “on the streets,” rather the player is simply sharing their music with others and paid to practice. At these words the parent is instantly on-board. Anything to make a kid practice is a good thing.
I also maintain that busking is not just a means of generating income, though it is a great perk. Many performers use busking as a means to conquer “stage fright.” Get out in the public and play. Even if you are just a beginner, adults included, you need to face your fear of playing music in front of people and do it.
Unlike a stage, where the spotlight is literally on the player, a busker is just off to the side and, as in Bell’s case, ignored. This is great for players who aren’t out to get a lot of attention and just get used to playing around other people. Beginners can remain low profile and unnoticed. But if you’re looking to get more exposure and money you need a good location with lots of people.
Start by researching if your town or city has a bylaw or regulations regarding busking. Many places now require buskers purchase a license as quality control, believing that vagrants and lousy musicians won’t want to fork out the eighty bucks. The park I played had a system to allow only so many buskers in the park at once. We drew numbers from a hat. If you didn’t get the right number you couldn’t busk that day. Cutthroat
Choose your location wisely. Corners are great since many people will pass from all directions, but not at a corner with a bus stop. Busses are very noisy and block the view for potential listeners across the street. Parks, plazas and tourist traps are also excellent, though you may face competition from other buskers. Despite all the musicians you see in front of the liquor store, it’s a bad place to play. Half the clientele is drunk or needs the cash to get drunk and it’s just not a safe place for someone with an expensive instrument to be hanging out.
An entrance to a shopping mall or toy store on Christmas Eve, though ideal locations, may not be permitted. Remember to check with the managers of the businesses you are near will allow your music. I’ve never been asked to leave or arrested owing to my asking permission beforehand. Yes, my record is clean! I’ve even been hired a few times by towns seeking to have high-class buskers in their towns. They pay on top of tips and no laws are being bent or broken.
Bell had a great location, an entrance to a plaza with loads of people. But he was there at the entirely wrong time of day. His audience didn’t have time to stop and listen; their jobs were at stake! Those who could watch a few minutes were eyeing their watches, their minds on their schedules and day ahead and not fully enjoying the concert.
Lunchtime, from 11am to 2pm, is ideal for busking. Moms and tots are out for errands before naptime, tourists are exploring and looking for things to spend money on and retired people are out for a midday stroll.
Those with regular jobs still have the time constraint of a lunch break, but it is far more time than they allow themselves to get to work in the morning! After all, who wants to get to work early! Lunch crowds have spare change from their purchases jingling in their pockets, are feeling happy and dozy from their meals and eager to enjoy a bit of distraction before returning to the job.
These people want to be entertained. So don’t bore them with tunes they don’t know and keep your repertoire simple. I realize this will come across as if I’ve sold out, but the popular songs and pieces are popular for a reason. If the listener can hum along it’s a winner. Fast fiddle music and Mozart have been my winning selections for years. Occacionally I break from my set and play “Danny Boy” for an older couple or a fun kiddy tune for a group of youngsters.
Many buskers use the venue as a place to practice new material on a neutral audience. Sure, Old Granny loves your songs, but what will the general public think? Learn what works for the average person and don’t keep the repertoire too fancy.
I have to be careful to preach music selection to a master such as Bell, but as an experienced busker I am convinced he was not playing the right music for the venue or the audience. Most of those people were not concertgoers who pay $200 to see him from the back of a theatre. They were average, working-class citizens who watch American Idol and have a Britney Spears ring tone.
A handful of people did recognize his mastery in the pieces he played and two people even recognized Bell, one having seen him earlier in concert. These were obviously classical music lovers. The other 1,050 people may have found the music too dry or lofty to appreciate. If he’d played a rousing Irish jig set or upbeat Mozart concerto I am sure he would have received better reception and tips. Save Bach’s dark and moody “Chaconne” for the concert hall.
When selecting your pieces also consider that subtleties in the music will not be heard. Busking is “trial by backfire;” a test for musicians literally competing against cars backfiring and other loud, city noises. The challenge of struggling being heard helps us learn to produce big tone, volume and power in our playing.
As a successful busker you must produce heartfelt, inspired music on a loud street corner with delivery trucks coming and going, horns honking, car stereos blaring and noxious bus fumes. You have to play above these distractions and put on a concert, even when you’re playing a moving nocturne while a whooping car alarm competes for the airwaves.
If you can, select a location in front of a large building with nice acoustic properties facing another large building across the street. If positioned in the right place your sound will echo against the other building and you’ll project several blocks away and attract an audience. Open spaces are harder to project sound and require more energy to be heard.
This is where guitar players boast how their amp will do all the work for them. Unfortunately many cities and towns have bylaws against amplified busking. This isn’t to say it can’t be done. In 1998 I was hired to play electric violin in a summer street festival. I had to write a letter to city council to receive permission to use an amplifier and was granted permission only for the duration of the festival and with the understanding that I limit the decibel level.
I saw several performers in Europe who played along with tiny radios or amps small as a lunch box as their accompaniment. They had preprogrammed back-up parts to their music to make their solo performance more like a group. A guitarist in Florence played to a bossa beat and a cellist in Rome was serenading with a synth orchestra. And the players didn’t have to split their earnings with a band!
Even without an amp, you may need a cart to carry your instrument and other gear. A small grocery cart will fit all the things you need in one trip since leaving your Strad on the curb while you go back to your car for your music is a bad idea.
In fact, leave the music behind and don’t use a music stand if you can help it. Not only does it block the audience’s view of you and your instrument, but sadly it implies to the general public that you are not as accomplished a musician since you “need the notes” to play. Memorizing your music allows you to make eye contact with your audience. When you look them in the eye you have engaged them and they are more likely to appreciate you and your music and leave a tip.
Unless you have bad breath or green teeth, smile at your audience. This makes all the difference. If you ignore your audience they will ignore you. Nod or say “thanks” when they leave a tip and display a tasteful sign by your tip jar or case that thanks them for their patronage. Your cart should carry a short folding table to place your jar or case on so it’s not on the ground. Anything you can do to show you are not playing down on the street is helpful.
My high school friend and I tried fundraising and busking at the same time, hoping to double our income! The plan backfired! Many listeners, as they were placing a dollar bill in the case, saw our handwritten sign advertising the $1 chocolates, reached over to the chocolate box and took one. We were serenading our chocolate customers for free and made less money.
The lesson learned was “Don’t sell something at the same time.” If you have CDs to sell, place a sign in your case saying “CDs Available separately for $20.”
Business cards are a good idea as well. Just keep them away from the money so people can’t pretend to be taking a card or tip you when they are really skimming your cash! Don’t let too many bills pile up in your case. They can blow away and may be further invitation for theft. As George Burns, veteran busker, said, “Sometimes the customers threw something in the hats. Sometimes they took something out of the hats. Sometimes they took the hats.”
Children should never busk alone. A parent or older sibling should be close by. Female buskers of all ages should take extra caution in where they play, what they wear and whom they are with. As a young busker I wore the occasional low-cut top or short skirt. A fellow and older busker (incidentally, a psychic) once warned me not to expose too much skin and to play near shops or groups of people. Thankfully, nothing has ever happened to me over the years, but I caution my young female students especially when they are going out busking.
Instrumentalists, especially string players, should also bring an umbrella to can fasten to the cart to protect their instruments from the elements. Not all locations have awnings and you shouldn’t count on the weatherman. Don’t bother busking in the rain. It doesn't matter how good you are since who wants to watch a performance in the rain?
The best way to keep the tips flowing is to keep on playing. Don’t pause between songs. You stop and you lose your audience. Try to keep conversations with passers-by short, even if they loved your music and want to know your life story. No one will pay you just to stand there and do nothing, unless you are a “living statue” whose act is to dress up and remain motionless for hours at a time. Thank your chatty customer and encourage her to stay and listen. Having several people gathered around listening will attract further listeners, and more tips.
Take breaks and eat only when the crowds die down. I learned to pack a lunch, snack and water so I didn’t blow my earnings on food. Eat then get back to music. You should stick around a couple hours so if you prefer to sit pack a folding chair or stool rather than sitting on the ground or standing for hours. Yes, it may be hours before you make decent money.
But hang in there; some days are better than others. Holidays tend to pay well and I made $200 on Christmas Eve 1994 and $400 on Father’s Day, 1997.
Even on days when I hardly made any money (my average was $50 after a couple hours) I found it a great learning experience. Heck, I was still getting paid to practice! And I became a far more confident performer as a result of it.
So the next time you see a busker, throw a buck or euro or pound their way. I admit I never used to tip buskers but after busking myself have made a priority of keeping spare change in my pocket so I can contribute.
After all, it wouldn’t be Paris without romantic accordion music on the Seine, or Venice without tenors singing arias in gondolas by moonlight, or the liquor store without the shoeless old wacko and his wrecked guitar!
Rhiannon operates Fiddleheads Violin Studio. Her award winning violin business services many elated instrument customers from Canada, the USA, the UK, Europe and Asia. http://www.fiddleheads.caTweet
Your article is interesting, but you overlook a basic issue. What gives you the right, no matter your cause or level of performance, to think you have the right to inflict sounds, often loud, upon others in a public arena? You do not give them a choice, and force your will upon people who did not opt to have your noise thrust upon them. Figure out another more legitimate and less egomaniacal, respectful way to get money. Banishment is what you deserve! You have no regard, respect or consideration for your fellow man.
Thanks for the article! I've actually wanted to try busking for a while, both because I enjoy fiddle music and also because it seemed like a fun way to earn a little extra cash. The main thing that has kept me away is legal questions and feeling shy about playing by myself. Thanks for sharing your experience - thats really helpful. :)
Interesting perspective on violin music, Joel.
Bill--You shouldn't confuse the issue. It has nothing to do with violin music, per se. It is solely about rudeness, insensitivity, gall, egomania, and a very mistaken sense of propriety that allows the busker to feel they have the right to inflict their crap, of whatever variety, on others in a public arena where the victims have no say.
Interestingly, in many instances, buskers, or street performers, do indeed have the legal right to perform, whether one happens to like it or not.
According to Wikipedia:
In the United States under Constitutional Law and most European common law, the protection of artistic free speech extends to busking. In the USA and most places the designated places for free speech behavior are the public parks, streets, sidewalks, thoroughfares and town squares or plazas. Under certain circumstances even private property may be open to buskers, particularly if the management allows or it is open to the general public and busking does not interfere with its function and it allows other forms of free speech behaviors or has a history of doing so.
While there is no universal code of conduct for buskers, there are common law practices to which many buskers conform. Most jurisdictions have corresponding statutory law. It is common law that buskers or others should not impede pedestrian traffic flow, block or otherwise obstruct entrances or exits, or do things that endanger the public. It is common law that most places require special permits to use electronically amplified sound and have limits on the volume of amplified sound. It is common law that any disturbing or noisy behaviors may not be conducted after certain hours in the night. These curfew limitations vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It is common law that "performing blue" (i.e. using adult material that is sexually explicit or any vulgar or obscene remarks or gestures) is generally prohibited unless performing for an adults-only environment such as in a bar or pub.
In most English-speaking countries, it is common law that unless invited to do so, busking for a captive audience where people cannot move away is generally not acceptable. In some locations, like the London and New York subway platforms, preference is given to "approved" buskers but performing on the trains is not allowed. Throughout the rest of world, busking on public transport may be commonplace.
In the United States there have been numerous legal cases about regulations and laws that have decided the rights of buskers to perform in public. Most of these laws and regulations have been found to be unconstitutional when challenged. In the USA about the only reasons that can be used to regulate or ban busking behavior are public safety issues and noise issues in certain areas that require silence like hospital zones, around churches, funeral homes, cemeteries and transport terminals where announcements need to be heard. Such laws must be narrowly tailored to eliminate only the perceived evils by limiting the time, place and manner that busking may be practiced. They must also leave open reasonable alternative venues.
In the USA laws regulating or banning busking must be applied evenly to all forms of free speech. Busking cannot be prohibited in an area where other forms of free speech are not prohibited. For example if busking is regulated or banned but people are allowed to conduct free speech behavior for pickets, protests, religious, political, educational, sports or other purposes then the law is illegal. In the USA any form of regulation on artistic free speech must not be judgmental, and permits must not be so restrictive, complex, difficult or expensive to obtain that they inhibit free speech.
Modern legality is one thing. Human decency, often, another. Busking is begging, worthy only of pity.
Modern legality is one thing. Human decency, often, another. Busking is begging, worthy only, at best, of pity.
Here in NYC, I usually enjoy the street performers, some of whom are accomplished musicians. I've yet to be enraged by a street performer -- although I found the crude sexual inuendo of a juggler in Montreal to be offensive, particularly as I had small children with me.
That said, I have decidedly mixed feelings about the practice of "free speech" on the subway, where we truly are a captive audience. In these instances, in practice, it's less about about musicians than it is assorted panhandlers and the fire-and-brimstone folks who feel the need to give me their testimony at the top of their lungs at 7:30 in the morning.
I've been thinking about busking for a while too. I don't have a problem playing in front of others and I'm talented enough but I wouldn't know how to find popular music for solo violin. I was even thinking about getting permission from the manager of the mall. What do you guys usually play?
I'm with Joel. Kill all the son of a bitches!
yes--and slowly with the background sound of a 5 year old beginner playing the violin trying to make sounds high up on the e string
I think there's a kind of hybrid experience that I have been calling busking but maybe needs a different name: playing in public at a public event at the invitation of the people organizing the event. The example I'm thinking of is playing at a Farmers' Market as community service, which is on my mind because I'm doing it myself this afternoon (if it doesn't rain). It's part of a series called "Music at the Market." I'm not being paid and I'm not planning to open my case, it's community service. People know about it because it was advertised, if they don't want to hear solo viola and fiddling while they're shopping for vegetables, they don't have to come at 4 p.m. when it's happening. But I'm dealing with a lot of the same sorts of issues that Rhiannon is writing about: what music to play, how to be heard above the general background noise, how much to interact with your audience, the benefits of learning to play around people but not on stage. As an amateur, I don't personally see the opportunity to make money (or lack thereof) as a big part of the experience one way or the other--but I'm wondering if you take the monetary aspect out, whether those who dislike buskers would still feel that way.
It seems the trolls are awakening.
I like street performers. Of the many violations of the social contract that I routinely experience as a citizen of NYC, the sincere efforts of people to bring a little music into the world in public places simply do not rate my rage and rigteous indignation.
I am gratified that they are fully protected by law.
Moreover, I do not agree that busking, or performing as a musician on the street, is always a form of begging.
This from Wikipedia's survey of the phenomenon:
"Some people stereotype buskers as being unemployed, homeless or beggars. Most buskers are not unemployed, homeless or beggars, and these terms are normally derogatory when referring to a busker. Some people will heckle buskers and stigmatize them as such regardless of their social status. Sooner or later virtually every busker has to deal with hecklers. A good busker must be able to maintain his or her composure when in public and never do anything inappropriate when confronted by such behavior."
"There have been performances in public places for gratuities in every major culture in the world, dating back to antiquity. This art form was the most widely used method of employment for entertainers before the advent of recording and personal electronics. Prior to that, a living human being had to produce any music or entertainment, save for a few mechanical devices such as the barrel organ, the music box, and the piano roll. These would develop into the organ grinders and the one man band performing in public.
Christmas caroling can also be a form of busking, as wassailing included singing for alms, wassail or some other form of refreshment such as Figgy pudding.
Because of their nomadic nature, busking is a common form of employment among the Roma people, also known as Gypsies. Mentions of Roma music, dancers and fortune tellers are found in all forms of song poetry, prose and lore. It is believed by many that the Roma brought the word busking to England by way of their travels along the Mediterranean coast to Spain and the Atlantic ocean and then up north to England and the rest of Europe. The distinctive sound of Roma music has strongly influenced bolero, flamenco, and jazz in Europe. European-style Gypsy jazz is still widely practiced among the original creators (the Roma People). Salsa, rumba, mambo and guajira from Cuba, the tondero and marinera from Peru, mariachi music from Mexico, and even American country music have all been influenced by their plaintive vocals, mournful violins and soulful guitar.
Mariachis are Mexican street bands that play a specific style of music by the same name. Mariachis frequently wear ornate costumes with intricate embroidery and beaded designs, large brimmed sombreros and the short charro jackets. Because of their great popularity many Mariachis are in mainstream entertainment doing professional gigs. Mariachi groups busk when they perform for gratuities as strolling minstrels traveling through streets and plazas, as well as in restaurants and bars.
In the USA medicine shows proliferated in the 1800s. They were traveling vendors selling elixirs and potions to improve the health. They would often employ entertainment acts as a way of making the clients feel better. The people would often associate this feeling of well-being with the products sold. After these performances they would "pass the hat".
Chindonya street performers in Okubo, Tokyo, advertising for the opening of a pachinko parlor.Around the middle 1800s Japanese Chindonya started to be seen using their skills for advertising, and these street performers are still occasionally seen in Japan.
Folk music has always been a dominant presence in the busking scene. Cafe, restaurant, bar and pub busking is a mainstay of this art form. Two of the more famous folk singers are Woody Guthrie and Joan Baez. The delta bluesmen were mostly itinerant musicians emanating from the Mississippi Delta region of the USA around the early 1920s and on. They spread the gospel of the blues to many...
the article goes on, but the link for anyone interested in a busking overview is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Busking
One of my best memories is that of a talented blind musician playing on Saturdays growing up in front of the local Five and Dime.
I also see busking as a chance to get close to the audience, hecklers or not. This of itself is invaluable to solo musicians I think.
An Officer's club use to hire me to solo as a pre-competition exercise. I mainly played for my own development up to that point, and they ensured I was ready for months, to advance--which I did--and the extra money was appreciated as well. I see busking as valuable in this respect as well.
Not all musicians play music for the audience--I really don't. So busking even beyond the above, gives a musician a chance to perform their own terms as well. I like this personally directed aspect of busking--a one person musician's union.
Busking, further makes that connection with the Roma spirit in us all. This, in my mind, is the ultimate global perspective of busking--a very good thing.
Busking is good.
Rhiannon, thank you so much for your detailed tutorial on busking. Sean, thank you for your contributions on legal issues. I've wanted to try busking for a long time, but I'm scared to do it all alone. I'd like to have someone else with me. Recently, one of my students, age 9, has been busking with his brother, age 11, at a local town square bordered with restaurants, movie theaters, and office buildings. They make about $10 a day. I've been thinking that it would be fun to join them sometimes. I was thinking about playing light, happy music (jigs, reels, and American folk music) with a smattering of popular classical music (Eine Kleine, Four Seasons). I could tell people that the young violinist is one of my students and have some business cards on hand. Does this sound good to you?
joel calm down, whats with all the anger?
YOU are the one who ignores one basic issue, namely she has just as much right to play in public as you do to complain about it! Furthermore, in saying she should be banned you have no respect nor consideration to my or anyonene else's right to listen, did you ever think of that? Therefore you are the rude and egotistical one. The world does not revolve around you, perhaps banishment is what you deserve!
i see nothing wrong with busking - it has nothing to do with rudeness, insensitivity, gall, nor egomania - i feel it has to do with someone who desires to get paid to practice and god forbid try to earn a living and everyone knows how difficult it is to get by as a musician, hence the term "nice work if you can get it"
a girl's gotta eat somehow!
Furthermore, I find Rhiannon's writings intelligent, and intriguingly witty and encourage her to write more as I consider her blog most interesting of all i have read here!
...one more thing, how can someone be a victim if they have the ability to walk away and not hear or see it?
if you dont like busking just go somewhere else and if you dont like this blog dont read it and let everyone else enjoy it if they want
Boy oh boy, did I open a can of worms... Thanks for the feedback everyone.
I actually Loved it!!! (despite some very grouchy fellows: ) I'm planning on going busking this summer..mostly for the fun of it ..not because I need cash.. I want to work on my stage fright..Thank you for all the tips!!
I like to listen when I have time. With all the noise out there, it offers options to loud car hip-hop, car sounds, construction blarring out and other racket with no purpose. At these sounds have a purpose. To entertain. If the sound does not entertain, then keep walking.
That was a nice article. For people like Joel, I would ask what about the rights of those who enjoy the buskers? I would prefer a lively atmosphere in a public place, and music adds to that. Public areas are of course, Public. If you are looking for peace and quiet, a public street is probably not the place to be.
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July 4, 2007 at 03:25 PM · Thanks for sharing your experiences. I enjoyed this a lot, and learned a lot from you as well. I love the idea of busking, though I've really only done it once--successfully, and then it was more like street-performing.
I couldn't even play well when I busked: about 3 months in with severely damaged f2 then f4 and f3 on my southpaw--each progressively worse. I donned an old green housecoat and a ugly straw hat I garden in, and raised money for a hurricane Katrina victim my family adopted.
I further pinned an orange neon sign to my housecoat that said: for $0.50 I'll play you a song, for $1.00 I won't. I got a lot of dollars, and had a ball working the crowds up and down the street! ;)... We ultimately raised enough (not from busking alone) to get them a generous down payment on their new house, and furnished it for them completely.
I think, only musicians/artists really have this can-doitiveness and actually try to live it beyond 'a committee'.
I wouldn't include buskers in the same spirit of other street performers unless those performances have some level of substance: comedy, competence..., something.
I liked the idea of bringing one's own accompaniment as well. I record on midi sometimes and play along, but haven't gotten that good at counterpoint with the violin yet so that will be awhile. I can throw in a string line more or less at will now, but I'm talking about really blending with the song in a more complex manner.
Anyway, thanks again--that was very though provoking.