Jonny Boyle sent me a link to this story about Joshua Bell (one of the world’s most highly acclaimed violin players). Have a quick read and come back to me…
I spent the last three months busking in Melbourne, sometimes – like Mr Bell – in a subway. I can empathise entirely with the story. My guitar isn’t worth 3.5 million, for example, but a significant number of people commented on the fact that I was busking with a quality instrument. I usually replied that it was the only guitar I owned, so I had no choice. If their objection was that one shouldn’t play a really good instrument on the street, I disagree. I also never once felt unsafe, but I realise that a sense of personal safety is rather subjective.
The best advice I got from fellow buskers was to persevere. Joshua Bell did really well getting $32 in forty-five minutes. It’s a fascinating social dynamic that’s at play and one of the things buskers commonly think about is whether or not to ‘seed’ their open guitar case or hat with a few coins to encourage people. I, rather obstinately, used to mostly start with nothing in the case. The amount of times I wanted to shout for joy at the first person to chuck something in!
I could probably count on one hand the number of people who stopped to listen. (I’m not counting the patient people in cafes or in open-windowed apartments who were within earshot of my chosen spots.) The reason I favoured the subway was the great acoustics and the fact that I had people’s aural attention for the duration of their walk from one end to the other. Unless they were on the phone, of course, in which case I’d either sing louder or exaggeratedly softer, depending on my mood.
Always, though, I played my very best for them and it felt wonderful. Thank you, Melbourne 🙂