Violin buskers who are faking it
Violin busking is not exactly lucrative, as Joshua Bell discovered in the DC metro. However, this has not deterred scam artists who are ‘playing’ in parking lots across the country.
They typically use electric violins, although some use acoustic electric ones. They do not actually play, but pretend to do so. They use battery powered amps to play recorded violin music.
Violins usually do not get much exposure. Do you think this sort of thing is still positive for the instrument?
I suppose it increases sales of electric violins if nothing else.
We all know about faking it in orchestra (One high-level opera violist told me he thought Wagner overscored on the assumption that players would be), but this is taking it to new levels!
One of my favorite acts, some time ago, was in the Paris Metro. In front of a portable record player that was blaring a Brahms Hungarian Dance, a marionette violinist sawed away with some vigor. It was shameless enough to be quite entertaining.
idk what the heck Joshua Bell was doing but I made almost 10k busking in my free time on weekends this summer. I don't know why it has a bad reputation. I think he had the wrong repertoire and a bad location (wasn't he playing solo Bach? What average joe wants to hear that on their morning commute?...)
I saw several in France on vacation this year. They all have those cheapy electric violins that you get from ebay for about $80. I stood and stared a cold icy stare and they looked uneasy!!!
I had an interesting pair of encounters with one of them two weeks ago.
I'm familiar with one such busker at our local Saturday Market. He looks and sounds pathetic. I think that, as far as he's concerned, the more pathetic, the better! (Maybe that's where Joshua Bell, in his busking efforts, went wrong.)
There was a fake violinist outside when I went to the grocery store a few weeks ago. He was in an odd spot in the parking lot and had the volume turned up annoyingly high. No one really paid attention to him. He wasn’t really putting much effort into his faking, but that seems to be the norm with these fake players.
In my little city at the supermarket one Saturday there was a violinist with a sound system but he was actually playing and was quite good. He appeared to be in his late teens or early 20's. Even the not very discerning audience he had in this town seemed to appreciate him. I noticed he had a pretty good violin and a Bon Musica shoulder rest. His bowing was very good (compared to mine anyway).
My experience is such:
I remember hearing about the Josh Bell busking experience. Didn't he earn $25 or so? The thing is that one person recognized him and gave him $20 of those dollars! Makes the story worse ...
My grandson did this - in fact it was the start of a 5-year venture that delayed his graduation from college for 4 years:
Andrew - I just listened to your grandson's band on youtube - I'm really impressed! I'm also a bluegrass fan; it always puts a smile on my face.
Erin, it was in San Rafael, where I live and where Simon and Jan were going to high school
Well, I would have melted at his feet for solo Bach and probably just decided to stay and listen and not go to my job that day. :-)
The point of Joshua Bell's escapade is that he played in one of the downtown subway stations, chosen for the same clientele as would likely pay $150 for a ticket to hear him in a concert hall. He also played the same repertoire - yes, it was solo Bach. I watched the video when it first came out and it just reminded me of that fabulous song by Joni Mitchell, 'Playing or Free'. The point really was the same.
Joni Mitchell did some really fabulous stuff, including the original version of "Woodstock", which Crosby Stills and Nash rock-and-rollerized, turning it into a much bigger hit.
I saw Josh Bell in the subway station, and I kept yelling "play Freebird!" until he got annoyed and packed up and went home.
My wife and I ran across a Lynyrd Skynyrd performance several years ago while attending a "biker event", which we rode to and from on our two "his and hers" Harleys.
I could actually see that being a tricky, but effective song to busk with.
I have not seen a fake violin busker (yet) and I'm really surprised to hear people actually do that. Perhaps because I don't visit the bigger cities in these times. Or it is not very common here in Europe, I don't know. I think when I saw someone faking violin playing I would stop to watch and just don't believe that haha.
There have been reports that the fake buskers are an organized scam ring in the US. Their equipment, signage, and song rotation seem suspiciously uniform.
I can imagine the syndicate. If the business does not pay up, they will play classical music in front of their store.
Oh dear Michael...
I am kind of amazed this is a thing. Hmmm... I guess if it's theatrical miming and goes with good music, I would be okay with it.
Faking it has been going on for years in all sorts of strange situations. Years ago, I taught theater in a high school. We financed ourselves by bringing in a professional traveling theater company. They'd charge $10 a seat. The 800 seat auditorium would fill up with elementary students, and we'd get a cut of the take. During one performance, I noticed the actors didn't wear microphones, and yet their voices were clear, without any projection problems. This was very odd in a huge barn of an auditorium (built in 1903) where the acoustics were awful, and microphones were necessary if we wanted any kind of good sound quality. Also, when a laugh line came along, they didn't pause for the laugh, but kept right on with the dialogue. Being curious about this, I quietly made my way outside the auditorium, and used my key to get in the backstage door. I saw the stage manager sitting on a chair in the wings. In front of him was a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and the spools of tape were rotating. The truth came out. The actors were lip-syncing their lines. This wasn't live theater. This was actors going through there motions. I've also seen this sort of thing in touring "Broadway" musical shows. I saw a production where the sound was perfect, where the orchestra was clear, and full. I also noticed the actors stepping on laugh lines and other responses, where in genuine situations, they'd pause. At intermission, I went to the front of the auditorium and looked at the musicians. There was barely a skeleton crew in the pit. The sound, and the voices were obviously from recordings. It's a real shame. People walked out saying, "Wow! That was perfect!" Well, perhaps, but it was far from genuine. For any theater or musical experience - plays - musicals - buskers - the experience should be communication at the moment between the performer(s) and the audience. The risk needs to be there. If you want to watch a recording, go home and turn on the television.
A bad busker who does not fake it will give the violin a bad name!
I have never done busking. It can be just another form of begging. But there was one evening when I was camped on the lawn at old town Monterey. The seals were barking continuously and keeping me awake, so I tried an experiment. I took my violin out on the pier and played some fiddle tunes to see if that might distract them,, quiet them. No result. But somebody walking by gave me a dollar.
Some years ago my wife and I were on holiday in Ireland, for folk music and dance workshops. We stayed in a B&B in the countryside some miles out of town.
Some years ago, I was trying out pianos at the Steinway store in one of the largest malls in the US. My intent was to have something that pianist would enjoy playing, and that would be used in exclusively a chamber-music context (and the occasional violin-with-piano-reduction work), since I am not a competent pianist myself. So I brought my violin and some sheet music, and one of the salespeople accompanied. Drew a surprisingly large group of listeners into the store. (Enough to make me wonder if the store maybe should hire someone to do this on sale days...)
"Dear Ms. Leong;
This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.