There was an article recently in the Washington Post about Joshua Bell, considered one of the world’s greatest violinists out there today, playing just outside a subway exit for 45 minutes and receiving barely any attention at all.
The article reflects to me my own reactions to busking: I appreciate the sounds and do listen intently as I walk hurriedly past, barely taking the time to acknowledge the busker with a glance. Yes, I enjoy the music. Yes, I’m usually busy. Yes, I feel guilty for not flicking a coin or two into the busker’s case.
A couple of weeks ago, I was casually walking around the Annex, enjoying a warmer sunny afternoon than we’ve had for a while. A small band of three twenty-something boys was clustered on a corner, busking away in the sun.
But there was something special this time – the drummer was really, really good. He was belting out a rhythm that had me captivated. I caught his eye. I hesitated. I could just tell that a crowd wanted to form, but the timid Torontonians around, myself included, just couldn’t bring ourselves to stop and listen for a few moments. All of us who noticed that group moved on.
I’ve never really shown that my enjoyment of the music I’ve heard on the streets. When I do look at the busker, I’m sure there’s some strange expression of the need for reservation and stoicness in my eyes that they must recognise in most passersby. I never remember where I was rushing to when I do recall a public performance such as this, though I usually recall the performances themselves. And it’s so damn difficult to stop, dig through my purse, open it and find appropriate change – if I even have any on me.
And so I move on… and it will likely remain that way. It truly is a matter, for me, of the music being out of context. Even though, as the years pass and the buskers remain on the street, “context” must eventually evolve to include “the street” as one other place one would expect to hear musicians – even great ones.