Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Music on the Subway


"The Washington Post convinced Joshua Bell, one of the current great violinists, whom people pay hundreds of dollars per ticket to see perform, to take his $3.5 million Stradivarius into the Washington subway and play unannounced. Some 11,000 people passed him by without so much as a pause. One lone woman did recognize him, and listened to him play before putting a $20 bill into his case. In all, he made $32. Now, I really like that kind of odd story, because it does generate some discussion about why that is, and to place it in some sort of context. For example, world class music is great, but a subway is full of people trying to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. So that adds something to the discussion."
Wichita Newsbrief

I see street musicians almost every day. Some of them are gypsies, some of them are just looking for their next drink money... and some of them have real talent.

N gives me a bad time, but I give money to the ones that seem to have some talent, or at make an effort to entertain. I rarely give more than 50 cents, I think the most was two Euros to a guy that came onto the train and proceeded to play the guitar and sing to three songs... all of which were popular at one time. What was cool was that he put his own spin on them... played extended solos and seemed to have a good time. He was there for five stops at least… longer than 90% of the buskers I see. I've never seen him again.

The ones I don't like are the ones that are obviously not enjoying it… like I said, they are there trying to get some drink money, or maybe a gypsy family just sent their kids in with an accordion hoping that a nice-looking young man and a cute little girl will get more money. What I listen for too is to hear the "Danke" or Thank-you when the money of other travellers hits the jar. If I hear or see others giving out money and I see that the person won't even look at them or offer a simple thank you… I will put my change away. I also really dislike it when they just shove the jar in front of you and almost insist you put money in it. This is mostly done by the gypsies.

Sometimes the buskers travel in groups. I'm sure this is easier, and at least you won't feel so alone as you are ignored by 30 people in a train car. Occasionally the TV's in the train aren't working… and I've noticed that they seem to make more money at these times. I suppose it is because people are more bored with no stimulus, and the music isn't so easily tuned out.

There are train stations which have particularly good acoustics. It is almost a guarantee to see someone in these grand spots every time you go through there. How cool to step off of your train and be serenaded by a saxophone, violin, accordion, or even a synthesized piano as the beautiful music echoes against the lonely walls.

Here in Berlin we have a station named Stadtmitte. It connects two subway lines with a long walk in between and allows the musician to stay in one place; it is better for the ones that need to carry lots of equipment, or even have an amplifier for accompaniment. As the train doors open you are hit with the work from the musician of the day… the one that got there first, because it is obviously a much-loved location. The music seems to travel forever, as you walk closer to it, you can almost feel resonating through you. One of my favorites was a violinist who had lots of talent, and was smart enough to know that a fast-paced song selection would be the best choice for people on a 6 minute walk between trains. Their money collections are almost always filled with coins, which proves that getting out of bed early to be the first in the spot was a correct choice. Of course it doesn't hurt that it is located in the tourist area, with more people who aren't in "auto-mode" just on their way from point A to point B.

Personally I hope that buskers don't hear about the story from Washington. Hopefully they continue to brighten my day with a light-hearted song. All I can offer them is that there is one person on that train that puts down her book and takes the time to enjoy the music.

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