Sunday, October 08, 2006

I've discovered that the only time I'll probably ever get to play Park Street Red Line is in the mornings; it's a popular location. But the past couple weeks I've tried South Station and it's been occupied, so I've gone back a couple stops.

This time, a T inspector came up to me, and I was all ready for a confrontation, when he said, "You know, you might want to move down a bay. That's where people usually play, and it's probably more profitable."

I said, "But the sign says to play here."

"Don't believe everything you read."

Nice helpful T employee, which is a rarity around here.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

I am saddened that I will not be able to play at North Station for a while, as it has a nice wide-open performer's area and is fairly lucrative in the mornings.

Why can't I play, you ask?

North Station is becoming a member of Team Charlie.

While I do not have the aversion that some do to the Charlie machines, the work that goes into installing them seems to take months. I couldn't play at Stony Brook for weeks on end because of Charlie, and now that I can, North Station is off-limits.

I can play "Charlie on the MTA", but I think I'm the only one who finds it funny, since I can't sing and fiddle at the same time.

Also probably nobody wants to hear me singing.

Also probably I'd get kicked out of the T.


Speaking of Stony Brook, though, the T person who works there on Friday mornings was telling me all about how her uncle played violin, and her mother sang, and that's how she knows most of the songs I play. I can hear her singing along with me sometimes, when she's not trying to help some poor patron figure out the Charlie machines. She said she used to play violin when she was in junior high, and I wish now I'd told her that it's never too late to pick it up again. Maybe next time I talk to her, I will.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

While playing in Back Bay, I became the subject of a BU student's photojournalism project. She said she'd e-mail me some of the photos she took (and she took a lot). I'll see if I think any of them are shareable. I got interviewed.


While I was walking out of my home T stop the other day, one of the T workers told me to keep playing, because music is the only thing in this world that's real anymore. I'm not sure I agree that it's the only real thing, but I appreciated the sentiment. I think music, of whatever genre, does give a lot of people a way to feel grounded when not much else seems stable.


I played my standard "Pop Goes The Weasel" for a couple little ones today. It's so cool to watch them listening politely to something they don't know, and then as soon as I play something they recognize, their little faces light up and they turn to their caretakers to share the moment.


Anyone want to buy a viola? I have one I'm selling for a couple grand. (It's not my Very Good Viola, obviously; I need that one, but it got me through my undergradute degree.)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I feel like a terrible slacker. I have been busking regularly (I'm back at Stony Brook, hurray!), but not much interesting has happened.

I do hesitate to wish for interesting, because it puts me in mind of the Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times", and I don't need thinks to be that interesting.

I did find out the fiddle needs a good cleaning and probably a new bridge. Such are the perils of playing outside and in subway stations, neither of which is the cleanest of all possible environments.

Oh, I did get asked for my permit at Government Center by a T inspector for the first time since Red Line guy harrassed me about playing during rush hour, but it was no big thing.


Incidentally, "can you play this piece?" is a different question from "do you know this piece?" I do have a passing familiarity with "Flight of the Bumblebee", but I can't actually play it. Yet. It's in the queue.


I'm afraid I did, in fact, kill this nice elderly man, since I play at South Station about once a week, and while I've seen many other people repeatedly, I haven't seen him since this incident.

I'm sorry, nice man.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

At South Station, an elderly gentleman tossed some coins into my case and said "You're just what I needed this morning."


A family consisting of (I think) Mom, Grandma, and two small boys, hung out in the Public Garden for probably about half an hour, listening and dancing, and an unrelated woman videoed the very small boy dancing by himself.

And by "dancing", I mean "bouncing up and down in place with a huge grin." Very cute.


I started busking in April, when the weather was still fairly raw. I'll be interested to see how long I can stay outside until my fingers start freezing too much and I'll be driven underground. I have a friend who can knit hand wraps, which leave the fingers free, and I don't think they're too bulky to play in, but I should have her make me a pair and see how well they work.

Grasshoppers fiddle the spring and summer away and starve in the winter. Ants work all summer so they have food in the winter. Fiddlers keep all playing the year 'round to bring music to you, the people of Boston, whether you want it or not.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Dear Stony Brookites:

I'm sorry I haven't been around much lately. It's not you, it's me. Remember how I reappeared a couple weeks ago, and a few of you said you were pleased? I was glad to be back and all, but then the next week was spent with out-of-town visitors, and the week after that, I was just too tired to get up that morning.

This week? I tried, I honestly did...but the T kicked me out.

After I'd been playing for half an hour, a T courtesy officer came up and (very courteously) said that they thought my playing while electrical work was going on was a safety hazard, and would I mind stopping?

What could I do? I had to leave.

(She said she thought they'd be done next week, but I'll probably give it another week after that to make sure.)

I do still love you, and I'm trying to change.

Yours truly,


Monday, August 28, 2006

Note to Tim: It's pronounced "uh-SHOW-ken."

Curse the lack of a schwa on this keyboard.

Unless you're working with teenagers, in which case "Ashcan Farewell" works just fine.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Played in Back Bay; there was a man down there panhandling, as in just going up and (very softly) asking people for change. I think he asked me as I was getting off the train, but since he was behind me and very soft-spoken, I didn't really register it until a couple minutes later.

So I'm busking, and he's lurking around at the base of the stairs asking people for money, and I'm thinking this is probably hurting my income since people who aren't giving him money probably aren't going to be pulling out their wallets right next to him to give me money.

Then a guy comes up, and since I was playing, I couldn't hear him very well, but as far as I could tell, he was giving Mr. Panhandler a talking-to about responsibility and how, when I was asking strangers for money, I was earning it, and he should be ashamed to be upstaged by a woman (it was a guy-to-guy sort of talk, so I didn't take offense). Then he gave me a dollar and gave Mr. Panhandler the silver he had.

Then he stood there and listened to me intently until the next train came, and showed me a picture of his parents, and told me about how he just found out a couple months ago that he's part Irish, and ran through the mix of African, Native American, and European blood in his family.

Then the train came. Nice guy, really.


So I'm trying to figure out what T stations are favorable to busk at in the winter, since many aren't heated. North Station and South Station should be fine, Government Center probably, Back Bay will depend on the weather. Stony Brook will probably be right out (sorry, Stony Brookians; I've been gone for a couple weeks again, but I'll be back Friday, hopefully...I would have come this Friday, but I was accosted by a very friendly kitten). I don't want to go too far out on the Red Line, and I understand Harvard is quite competitive anyway. Park Street and Downtown Crossing just aren't comfortable places to fiddle. (Park Street Red Line might be OK, but it's almost always taken).

I'm open to suggestions, from those of you what might ride the T to places I normally don't.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Fiddler Lives!

In case anyone was wondering, all is well in Fiddlerland. My non-fiddling life became very busy, for positive reasons, for a little while there, and during that time I got a respectable sunburn on my shoulders, which meant that playing was a little too painful for me to care to attempt. But it's healing nicely, and I'm resuming my fiddling schedule as of today.

Would be nice if it stopped raining sometime this afternoon, but that may be too much to hope for.


At South Station a couple weeks ago, a young professional male came down the stairs, glared at me, snapped "*something unintelligible* You're annoying!" and stalked off.

I felt bad for myself for a few seconds, and then I felt sorry for him that his day was already going so poorly that he had to insult a random stranger before 9AM.

Also a nice man who heard him said, "Well, I like, sorry I don't have any money."

Incidentally, nobody should feel obligated to apologize for not having money or choosing not to tip.

You, sir, however...yes, the one who walked by me flipping through a money clip with at least a couple Ben Franklins, among smaller bills? That was just cruel.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The heat from Hades kept me off the streets and out of the subway most of this week, so I don't have a great deal to report. (My big boss at my day job basically told me not to busk. Not that he has any power over what I do in my off time, but it was kind of him to think of me.)


One woman said that my version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" was "the saddest I've ever heard." I wasn't really going for sad, but I do play it on the slow side and a little syrupy, so I suppose I can see that. It's a melancholy sort of song anyway.


I was playing on City Hall Plaza (incidentally, the garish blue 9/11 memorial panels are gone. Not sure of the backstory there) and a woman tipped me and said, "Thank you for making Boston a better place." That was a warm fuzzy.


Very small children are extremely cute in their tipping because they come toddling up and try to hand me the tip while I'm playing, which doesn't so much work, what with my hands both being busy. Their parents usually set them right.


A guy named Mark, who appeared to be in his mid-40s at youngest was telling me his sob story about having just gotten back from Iraq and as soon as he got back, his wife divorced him so he doesn't have a house anymore, and he hasn't eaten in a day and a half and so on. I ended up giving him three dollars out of my case because I'm a soft touch. (This is not a suggestion, because if this happens frequently, I'm liable to turn sarcastic, and that never ends well.)

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Lovely day for busking today. Mid-70s, sunny, and the tree I often play under seems to have been trimmed a bit so it only hit me in the face a couple times.


A small boy named Jack asked in a very tiny voice if I would play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Of course I did. I hope he starts taking violin lessons; I should have thought to ask if he does or intends to. He's old enough for Suzuki.


I make it a point to try to thank everyone who tips me. I have discovered that it takes some time, while I'm playing, for the language part of my brain to kick in, especially if I'm trying not to let it affect my playing. So if I see a tip coming, I can get out an audible "Thank you!"

If it's snuck up on me, it can range anywhere from a very soft "thank you" to an overly loud "THRAWK YURGH!"

Perhaps the Fiddler needs to work on multitasking.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

I'm starting to get recognized. Someone else on the Orange Line asked me if I'm the violinist who plays at South Station sometimes. I acknowledged as how I am, and she thanked me for playing so beautifully.

So far, I'm only recognized when carrying the fiddle, though. I doubt people really look at my face much, and that's fine.


A while back, I saw another violinist playing at Government Center, and he was barely audible. I was worried for a little that maybe I'm not very audible either, but then I remembered that one friend had heard me from downstairs at North Station when I was playing upstairs, and someone else said she could hear me from the dog area on the Common when I was playing by the duckling statues in the Public Garden, so that's all right.


I have found "76 Trombones" to be an excellent earworm. I'll hear people wandering away whistling it when I'm done. I almost had to quit playing it once though when I was in the Public Garden, and Professor Harold Hill came strolling by.

I still don't know where he was going, but nobody dresses like that unless they're in The Music Man.


Speaking of clothing, maybe the Fiddler is getting old and cranky, but who lets their ten-year-old out in public in a shirt that says "SEXY GIRL"? Seriously.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

I'm baaaack. It's nice to skip town for a few days. I was in Seattle briefly, where I saw a trio of buskers outside Pike Place Market, with a sign that read something like "PHOTOS ARE OK, BUT IT IS POLITE TO TIP FOR THEM."

I can't count the number of people I've noticed taking my photo from a distance behind a tree and then scurrying off. I don't really care, but do they think I'm going to chase them down, waving my bow threateningly, unless they give me a dollar?



I saw a gentleman in North Station whom I see about every time I play there; he usually tips. This time, he tipped, went a little ways away to make a phone call, came back, and held his cell phone up to me so whoever was on the other end could hear what I was playing. I felt like I should have been doing something a little more upscale than "Arkansas Traveler" (aka the Baby Bumblebee song), but whatever.


I was unpacking in the Public Garden, and a woman gave me a handful of change before I'd even started. I'm going with the theory that she's heard me before, because otherwise, it doesn't make sense. Not that I'm complaining about being handed money randomly.


Traveling on the Orange Line, a woman said to her toddler son, "Look, it's the violin lady!"

I'm becoming notorious or something.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Time keeps passing while I'm not paying attention, but I wanted to mention that the Fiddler will be out of town for the next few days, and busking may or may not occur during that time. I'll be back (and exhausted) on Monday; will try to post you a little something Tuesday.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Incidentally, I'm afraid I'm going to have to learn "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic. I've had two or three requests for it, and it's not difficult; I'm just not particularly fond of the song or the movie.

I was working in retail when that movie came out; I did see it in the theatre, but my favorite discussion of it came from two of my coworkers. K couldn't remember which main character died (and if that is in any way a spoiler, I can't help you).

K: I liked it, but now I can't remember how it ends.
M: The. Ship. Sinks.
I was playing at South Station, and a woman came up and said, in a charming Latina accent, "You touch my heart."


In the space of a short time in the Public Garden, I saw a man wearing one of those traditional Chinese cone-shaped hats (he did not appear to be of Chinese descent), a young man with a large blond Afro wearing a bright orange stocking cap perched on top of it, and a small child run out in front of a motorcycle cop.

I'm not sure which of the three was the greatest cause for concern.


I committed a breach of performance etiquette and took a cell phone call while I was busking, during which two people tipped me. Um.


On the Fourth, I played in the Public Garden with an emphasis on the American side of things, with folk songs and patriotic songs and American fiddle tunes. I'm not sure anyone else found it as amusing as I did, but "76 Trombones" lies surprisingly well on the violin.


I was playing "Chicken Reel" in Back Bay, and a woman came up and said, "I had walked by, but I heard that and thought 'This woman deserves a dollar.' You're funny."

At last, "Chicken Reel" gets its due.


Saturday, July 01, 2006

Dear Fellow Performer:

I realize it's astoundingly bad etiquette to steal someone else's pitch. But when your pitch consists of a couple milk crates, a hat with a dollar in it, a CD, and what appeared to be a week's worth of Metros, and you didn't come back for half an hour, what did you really expect?

To your credit, you weren't mad, and we chatted for a while (although I could have done without the hot dog bun crumbs being sprayed at me while you talked), and I certainly understand that nature calls, but I waited for a good five minutes and was playing for another twenty before you reappeared. Anyway, you have my card if you want to contact me.


I was recounting this story to a friend, who asked me how many street performers are doing it as their sole source of income. I have no idea of the answer to this. For a while, I was considering trying it, but it's so unpredictable, and your income is completely dependent on the whims of other people. In the summer, I think it would be fine, but it could make for some hard winters, unless you're an ant rather than a grasshopper. I have been a grasshopper, which is why I need the busking money now, but I'm slowly developing more ant-like qualities.


I was playing on the Green Line platform in Government Center, and a family of four was dancing along. What a good way to distract the kids from the fact that they're waiting forever for a train. That was sweet.


An older lady with more bags than teeth came up to me, gave me a handful of change, and wished me Happy Holidays. I was thinking she was not entirely oriented in time, but someone pointed out that it's almost the Fourth of July.

I think this may be a regional difference, as where I'm originally from, people may say "Have a good holiday" for Independence Day, but not "Happy Holidays."

Or maybe she really wasn't oriented in time.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Often, people walking by will smile and give me a thumbs up. I keep hoping they're not Australian.


I'm identifying different types of tippers. There's the ones who try to surreptitiously drop their tips in my case as they hurry by, no eye contact please. There's the ones who make sure to show me what they're giving me, usually with a big smile. There's the ones who try to slam dunk their change into the case (subdivided into those who succeed and those who have it bounce back at them and have to retrieve it...or leave it for me to retrieve). Then there's the ones who make change.

Now all I need is catchy labels for them.

I don't think I've had any "dippers" yet (people who look like they're leaving a tip, but instead actually take money), and if I have, I'm happier not knowing it.

And then there's the very small children who just know that Daddy gave them a dollar and told them to put it in the nice lady's case, and they have no idea why, but they're thrilled about it anyway. They get their own special category of cute.


Dear Young Mother,

I know toddlers need to have their diapers changed, and I know Boston Common is a little shy on changing tables, and I appreciate that you wanted your kiddo exposed to music, but did you have to expose everything else on the kid directly across the path from me? You couldn't have moved about twenty feet either way?

In fairness, though, thank you for taking the dirty diaper with you. Not everybody would.

But still.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

So there I am in Back Bay, playing something fiddly, when a woman in a bright orange Hawaiian shirt approaches me and asks, "Are you the Accidental Fiddler?"


"I love your blog!"


So hello there, friendly individual; I really liked your shirt, and if I seemed confused, it's because it takes a bit for my brain to switch from "playing mode" to "interaction with fellow human" mode. It was nice to meet a reader who wasn't someone I already know!


I didn't realize that, when Red Sox games are cancelled, they broadcast that in the T stations; I wonder if it's all of them or just the ones closest to Fenway Park?

All I know is I heard it about 97 times in Back Bay, and I saw a number of mildly disgruntled individuals in Sox apparel, and if you're not going to be spending the $4.50 on a hot dog, how 'bout dropping a bit of what you were going to spend in my case? No? Oh. OK then.


The performer's area at Back Bay is right next to one of the giant trash cans, which doesn't bother me, except today when a disheveled individual came up, rummaged around in it, found a discarded beverage, poured it into his own cup, and drank it down. Dude. That can't be sanitary. Also, dude. *shudders*


Rain rain, go away
For farmers, you may be OK
But Fiddler wants outside to play
Instead of underground all day.

(I'm a musician, dammit, not a poet.)

Friday, June 23, 2006

I ended up playing outside Stony Brook because they were changing the lights or something inside. I didn't do quite as well as usual; I think it had to do with 1) being to one side of the entrance and therefore not catching everybody as they came in or out and 2) people coming through the turnstiles already have their wallets out.


I mentioned that new kid violinist who likes to play on City Hall plaza. I beat him out there yesterday and he went walking by looking slightly annoyed.

A couple people I know who could abuse their authority (but wouldn't!) have offered to "take care of him" for me. I told them they probably really shouldn't. If he gets there first, he gets the pitch, and that's fair. But it's nice to feel valued.


A young lady came up to me and told me it was her wedding anniversary, and "Ashokan Farewell" was her wedding song, and did I know it? I'm fairly sure it was the same woman who'd told me this a few weeks ago (minus the anniversary part), and I had just played it before she came down the stairs, but I obliged. It is a lovely tune.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

This was unusual the first time it happened; now that it's happened twice, I really want to know what's going on...

I was playing by a fountain in the Public Garden, and an older Asian gentleman dressed in khaki shorts, a white T-shirt, and a cap or visor (I've forgotten which) got into the fountain basin, sloshed around for a while, and left. Same thing happened again a couple days later.

The first time, the basin was mostly full; the second time there wasn't much water in there. The only thing I can figure is that he was looking for coins, but do many people toss coins in those fountains? They just don't quite seem like wishing fountains to me. (Toss the coins in my case! In the case, people!)


Speaking of my case (look, a rare and elusive segue!), a disheveled man came up to me (waaayyy in my personal space) and told me I shouldn't have it open like that because there was "too much money" in it. Since I was playing at the time, I just smiled and nodded. Then he closed my case.

I stopped playing, flung the case back open, snarled "If it's closed, people won't put money in it!", and glared. He wandered away looking at me like I was terribly rude.

There were only about five dollar bills in it anyway.


Someone requested the Pachelbel Canon today (and if you don't know it by name, you do know it. It's played at every wedding anywhere ever). It wasn't really so much of a canon since it was only me, and for as many times as I've played it at weddings, I stumbled badly through a couple transitions, but my audience enjoyed it.

(For those of you familiar with it, yes, I only hit highlights.)


After I finished playing and headed to Starbucks, a nice Thai gentleman followed me there. He'd been sketching me and wanted to know (very nicely!) why I'd stopped playing. I told him I was expecting my ride, talked to him for a bit, he showed me the sketch, which was clearly not quite done.

I would have felt more badly if I hadn't recalled he'd been photographing me quite a bit as well.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

One of my favored spots to play is under the overhanging branches of a tree in the Public Garden.

Somehow, I think there was less tree a few weeks ago, and that the tree is winning.

Also, I need to invest in bug repellent.


A little upper-middle-aged Italian-looking lady gave me $5 to play Schubert's "Ave Maria." I was glad she walked away as I started, because I recognize it on hearing it; I can hum it all the the way through, but darned if I can actually play the whole thing (hence it's appearance on my "To Learn" list.)


I may owe royalties to the Hill sisters' estates. A woman came up, dropped a dollar in my case, and asked if I'd play "Happy Birthday" for her son. Of course, I said "Sure." She called over this little seven-ish boy with blond curls and said to him, "Let's see what she plays next!" When I launched into "Happy Birthday", his face lit up and he beamed. How much are royalties on a dollar?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I was playing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", and a little girl came running up, dropped a penny in my case, waited politely for me to finish, and said, "You're really good" before running back to her mom.

That just about made up for an otherwise seriously lackluster day.
At one point yesterday, I was being photographed, sketched, and videotaped, all at the same time.

I just hope I didn't have anything green in my teeth.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

I spent the parts of the day in which I had to be outside wandering around in an oversized teal poncho. Hey, it kept my fiddle dry.

I feel sorry for the Scooper Bowl, though...they gave up early today. I hope they're around tomorrow because I want ice cream, and it's for an excellent cause.

It's raining in Haymarket and Government Center; I didn't go to State Street today, but I imagine it's raining there too.


The little elderly gentleman on oxygen I see at South Station came up to me today and said as how he hasn't seen me in a while. I knew people were starting to recognize me; I didn't expect anyone would actually miss me. I felt incredibly guilty though, since when he came up to me, I was playing "Isn't It Grand Boys", which has a refrain of "Isn't it grand, boys, to be bloody well dead?" and I'm not sure how much longer this gentleman has for this world. I highly doubt he was familiar with the song, but I haven't quite outgrown my magical thinking phase, so I'm going to make it a point to go back to South Station and look for him. It will assuage my conscience.


A nice woman and her friendly and plump chihuahua sat and listened to me on City Hall Plaza. She requested "Amazing Grace", and I obliged. It's not a tune I have in rotation, but it's simple, pretty, and easy to embellish. I'm not quite sure how I feel about playing it regularly though; I don't want people to feel they're being preached at, and I think most people who grew up in this country would recognize it.

Similarly, I'm just not very comfortable playing "Dixie", for different reasons.

I do play "Simple Gifts" quite a bit, but that seems more folky and less preachy to me. I suppose people will take things however they choose.

I was considering a "Redemption" set however, consisting of "Devil's Dream", "Amazing Grace", and "St. Anne's Reel". These are the things that the Fiddler alone finds amusing, on account of being slightly warped and very dorky.


Speaking of slightly warped, I made it a point to play "Devil's Dream" several times yesterday. Nothing untoward happened.


And speaking of very dorky, I may be the only one who gets this, but I had just played "Hunter's Chorus" from the opera Der Freischuetz by Carl Maria von Weber. A distinguished gentleman approached me and asked me what it was; I told him.

"By who?"
"Ohhhh, not Webern."
"*laugh* No, not quite."
"I don't suppose Webern would play well on the T."

Um...OK, it was funny to me.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

So a couple days ago, I played at Stony Brook after work for First Thursdays. I was going to go down to Centre Street and play outside there, but then the heavens opened, so that plan was negated.

I was talking to the woman who'd asked me to play in the first place, and she started telling me about this blog she'd found by a Boston violinist and how the blogger was talking about not touching the fiddler, and I said, " that the Accidental Fiddler?"


"Um...that's me."

The whole evening was a little surreal, especially when I found someone I knew from a previous lifetime working at Emack and Bolio's.

Also during that evening, someone asked if I could play and dance at the same time, like Natalie MacMaster. I can barely walk and breathe at the same time, so I laughed and said, "Not quite." He said that by the time I'm her age, I'll be able to.

I checked, and she's younger than I am. So much for that theory.


I was playing on City Hall Plaza on Thursday, and I had to quit early, not because of the weather or anything, but because Dashboard Confessional was doing their sound check.


A man started talking to me while I was packing up, and something about him just presented as a little off. He turned out to have some trouble understanding appropriate inhibitions in interacting with strangers. He asked if guys hit on me all the time, and I told him not really, and anyway, I was taken. He said he'd ask me out in a heartbeat; I thanked him, but I'm taken. He said he thought girls with stringed instruments were automatically erotic, and I could play scantily-clad for my boyfriend, and were my measurements 36-24-36?

Then the train came. I'm often happy to see the Orange Line, but I was even happier to see it at that moment.


I was playing "Red River Valley", and an older woman came up and started singing along with tears in her eyes. People have told me I made them cry before (usually with "Danny Boy"), but this is the first time I've actually seen it happen. I've been so involved in music for so long that sometimes I lose sight of how it affects people.


A man hopped off a Green Line train and took my picture. He had a digital camera, and he showed me the result, and it just proved that my concentrating face looks like my mad face. That's why I try to remember to smile while I'm playing; I don't want to appear unapproachable.

Except maybe to guys who think all chicks with stringed instruments are erotic, because that's just a little creepy.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

One of the interesting things about the fiddle drowning out voices is what I think I hear. I thought a man gave me a dollar with the caveat, "This will help you out until you find a job", but I can't be certain. If I had tried this when I was younger and thinner-skinned, I would have been mortally offended. As it is, I'm highly amused if I'm right. I do have a "real" job, and I like it well enough. It pays the bills but it doesn't do much for the soul, hence the busking.


I've told a couple of my former teachers about the street performance gig. I'm not sure either of them is quite sure what to make of it, but I know they're pleased I'm performing. I think.


I replaced my A string, finally, as it was fraying under my fingers, and it became much easier to play. For you non-string players out there, it's like the difference between roller-skating on cobblestones and roller-skating on smooth pavement. They're both possible, but the pavement's much easier to navigate.


Conversation with a friend:

Me: So I mostly get change and dollars. If everyone gives me a dollar, it adds up. Actually...if everyone in Boston gave me a dollar...
Friend: You'd only have to do it once!

Monday, May 29, 2006

A small girl named Sarah and her father watched me unpacking, and when she saw my bow, Sarah said, "A fishing rod!"

Dad: Sarah, do you think that's a fishing rod?
Sarah: Yes...
Dad: Look at the whole package, what else do you see?
Sarah: A violin case...and a violin...
Dad: Yes, that's her bow.
Sarah: What's a bow?
Dad: It's what you play violin with.
Me: I don't think I'd catch many fish in this fountain.
Dad: It would be more worrying if you did.


Yesterday was the first time I've been paid NOT to play something. A man came up and gave me a dollar and asked me not to play Pop Goes the Weasel anymore, because he and his group who were picnicking nearby had heard it about seven times. I figured that was probably true, because I play it for little ones, so I agreed not to play it anymore right then. Then a Royal Bostonian Mounted Yaksman came by and shooed everyone off that stretch of grass; I'm not sure why.

Along those lines, I understand perfectly well why the Common and the Public Garden have rules about cleaning up after your dog. It would be nice, however, if the same rule applied to horses because Good Lord, horses.


Another man gave me a dollar and told me to play the saddest Irish song I knew, as long as it wasn't "Danny Boy." As I thought, I realized that many Irish songs have depressing lyrics, but the melodies are downright chipper. I tried "Isn't It Grand Boys", but that's more bitter than sad, really. I settled on "Ashokan Farewell", even though it's American and was written in 1982, but the man was satisfied with it, and that's all anyone can ask, really.


After I finished playing, I walked through the Common and had a nice long talk with Stephen Baird, who is a pro-street performer activist, as well as being a performer himself. He is responsible for the changing attitudes of Boston police, the T, and I don't know who all else towards street performers, and he looks out for everyone. I had written to him about the T official who bothered me a couple weeks ago, and he replied promptly. It's good to know that he's working for artists; I'm glad I worked up the nerve to talk to him. And he plays a mean hammered dulcimer.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

More notes on dogs:

I can't really say as I'm a fan of tail docking, since I've never owned a dog for which such a procedure is traditional, but please, if you're going to have your dog's tail docked, trim it so it doesn't end up looking like a whisk broom or something.

Also, I observed two incidents in the T involving guide dogs. One man with a guide dog was playing banjo on the Orange Line, and this other man came up and kept petting the dog despite the owner's requests that he stop. The man who was not the dog's owner actually got offended that he couldn't pet the dog. Just because the dog is lying down doesn't mean it's not on duty.

And also on the Orange Line while I was playing, I saw a man approaching a woman and her guide dog, reaching out to pet the dog head-on without asking permission. I'm fairly sure it's not a great idea to approach any strange dog without warning, but even more so when it's a working dog that's not yours.


I was trying to get to South Station from Downtown Crossing last night, and I missed two southbound Red Line trains because they were too full to accept any more passengers. If the Red Line is supposed to be getting more attention than the other lines, why can't they run more trains?


Several people over the last few days have told me to make sure to keep up my music. I'm not really at any risk of quitting, but I appreciate the sentiment. One woman in the Public Garden said she hoped I'd be there all summer.


One of the more unusual men who's talked to me (the one who decided I'm in the BSO) found me again and wanted me to play Bach for him, so I chose a pair of bourrees, with all repeats. He kept talking to me while I was playing. I just get an odd vibe off him; I'm sure he's not neurotypical, but I don't think he's dangerous.


A group of Urban Youth (tm) walked by while I was playing earlier this week, and one of them yelled "You're doing a great job, miss!" People consistently surprise me.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

When I went to one of my usual T haunts this morning, someone was already there performing. It's a first-come, first-serve sort of deal, so I really couldn't be too annoyed.

So I went to the Common, to see how I did playing for people on their way to work.

Short answer: Not so well, but I do like to be outside.

Longer observation: I couldn't help getting the impression that people were more likely to think of me as a panhandler than a performer, considering the location and time.

I also couldn't help getting the impression that a person could leave a corpse wrapped in a blanket in the middle of the Common in the middle of the night, and nobody would notice for quite a while.


Small children can be incredibly cute, really, especially when they belong to other people.

When I'm busking outside, I have a rock in my case to weigh down the paper money. A small boy, I'm guessing around two, came up with a tip, picked up the rock, said to me, "Someone put this in your case", and flung it away. I waited to retrieve it until he had left.

Today, a different small boy, who I'd also guess was about two, attracted a small audience with his dancing to my playing. Said dancing consisted mainly of bouncing in place and spinning around, all with a huge grin.


Someday I may get used to being a photo opportunity, but it still surprises me when people actually pose next to me.


A nice young gentleman whom I believe to have had mild Down syndrome chatted with me for a while about how he plays violin and piano and wants to learn drums. Having once taught someone with a developmental disability, I was pleased to hear that this guy had had the opportunity to learn music.


A different man complimented my "stroking technique". I most sincerely hope he was referring to bow strokes.


Yet another man called out to me, "Hey, Mairi's getting married!" while I was playing "Mairi's Wedding." I like it when people recognize the tunes I play, especially the slightly more obscure ones.


A young lady gave me a card with a drawing of a cat with a fiddle, but it has an invalid URL on the back. What I don't know is if she just happened to have it with her, if it's her own drawing, or if she's seen me around and was hoping to run into me again. I liked the drawing though, and it lives in my case now.


When I'm playing outside, I see a lot of dogs with their people, and sometimes the resemblance between dog and human amazes me. I'm not a big fan of tiny dogs in general, although I understand that those who have them love them. I even understand that very small dogs don't have much by way of natural weatherproofing, and maybe they need a sweater or something to keep out the chill.

But ma'am, was it really necessary to coordinate your sweater with your Yorkie's? I mean, it's OK to love your pets, but don't dress like your pets. Please. No, really, don't do it.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

As a street performer, safety is always an issue. As a female street performer, this is even more true. Simple awareness can go a long way, and the ability to set appropriate boundaries is of paramount importance.

However, there are some scenarios for which one can never really be prepared, and some can occur within the supposed safety of one's own home.

It is not every day that a person is in her living room, innocently playing through "Fisher's Hornpipe", when she suddenly finds a small tortoiseshell cat hanging from the seat of her pants, crying plaintively, as though a little kitty heart is rent asunder.

This could happen to you!*

provided you live with a small tortoiseshell cat whose itty bitty kitty brain tends to short-circuit at the sound of live music

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Incidentally, as of yesterday, it was still raining in State Street Station. There's a charming little pond forming on the Oak Grove platform right in front of the "T Performers Area" sign. All it needs is some moss, a few koi and a footbridge, and there will be a lovely underground botanical garden.

Friday, May 19, 2006

As much as I like to think of myself as open-minded and non-judgmental, I keep being wrong about people, usually in a good way.

For example, while I was playing Vivaldi, a man in a tweed jacket and stetson with a nicely-trimmed beard who looked like an Irishman to me, thanked me for NOT playing Irish fiddle music. And a man who appeared to be the type of guy who would prefer Beck to Bach asked me not only what key the gavotte I'd just played was in, but the BWV number.

I made friends with a woman in Government Center who is a classical pianist and was considering getting a permit and carrying around a portable keyboard, but she thought she probably wouldn't make too much money playing classical music. I wasn't sure what to tell her...I intersperse classical with fiddle (and the one show tune I know right now), because I think classical music deserves to be heard, but I stick with the familiar and the easy on the ears. I have a whole rant on the general American perception of classical music, but that's for another time, perhaps.


When I was heading home through the Public Garden last night, I saw a man sitting under a tree by the lagoon with a guitar. I assumed he was another busker, but when I went closer, I realized he was facing away from the path; his case was closed, and he was playing a nylon-stringed guitar without amplification. He was just sitting quietly playing to himself and the ducks. I appreciated that.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

There is something soul-soothing about fiddling outside, surrounded by trees and grass and flowers, with the recently rediscovered sun beaming merrily upon this calm oasis within the bustle of the city, and a spirited zephyr dancing through the trees, bringing to life the branches, the leaves on the ground, the...hey...HEY! That's my dollar! You bring that back, you stupid wind!

And that is why God created small rocks.


Moment of Cute: Mom, Dad, boy about eight, girl about five. Boy asks mom if he can give me money; she gives permission; he digs some of his own change out of his wallet and gives his sister some so she can tip me herself.


Last week, I was playing semi-consciously away in North Station (the Fiddler usually does her first set of the day before caffeine, which makes for some blurry recollection of what she's already played), and I looked over to see this charming blonde with a curious expression whom I'd never seen before saying my name at me. A blink or two later, I realized it was a soprano I'd seen pictures of and had chatted with online a fair amount, but I hadn't actually met her yet. That was nifty.


It's not every day a Minuteman appears in South Station and drops coins in your case with a "It's nice to hear something familiar." I will probably never know if he was being in character or not.


As of yesterday, it was still raining in State Street Station. I was so pleased to be able to play outside today that I didn't bother going to check today.

Speaking of the T, I saw a young man wearing a double bass on his back hoping to get on a Green Line car during rush hour the other day. I don't know if he ever succeeded; I hope so, but considering how many people I smack with my violin on the T on a regular basis, I suspect not.

If I ever have or ever do hit you with my case, I hereby apologize.


About every third time I decide to play "Cripple Creek", I see someone on crutches or in a wheelchair and I just can't do it, man.

"Greensleeves" now has a vote this week for favorite tune, so that's one each for "Greensleeves", "Ashokan Farewell", and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". Nobody ever says "Chicken Reel" is their favorite. Poor "Chicken Reel".


Tip of the Week so far: A Charms Cherry Sweet Pop. It's sealed, and I saw who gave it to me; I'm sure it's fine.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

To the young woman who wanted to borrow my violin to play for me today:

I didn't mind at all letting you, and I'm sorry you took off before I got a chance to talk to you more, but the rapper wanted to talk to me about me possibly recording with him (I didn't commit one way or the would be interesting, but I have absolutely no experience in that realm), and by the time I finished with him, you were gone. You sort of reminded me of a student from back home, Nora, who would have done something much like that. I was afraid you were embarrassed at having trouble remembering what you were trying (a little Mozart, a little Bach), and I wanted to reassure you. If you see me again, I'll be happy to talk to you more, especially since I suspect you were a Suzuki kid at one point.

To the Asian gentleman a bit older than me who borrowed my violin to play for me today:

I didn't know it was "Borrow Buskers' Instruments" day, but again, I didn't mind. Thank you for that rendition of Schubert's Staendchen; I honestly enjoyed it.

To the both of you:

You're considerably more extroverted than I. I was keeping a very close eye on you, but all was well, and I really wanted to see what you could do.

To the T:

You could save paper by having the "WET PAINT" signs all over Haymarket just say "WET", as it was raining on the stairs between the Green and Orange Lines. Also, it was raining on the T Performers' Area on the platform on State Street. The underground, fully enclosed platform.

To my fellow T riders:

Thank you for not seeming to notice when I gasped out loud when the train emerged from NE Medical and there was SUN. I went underground immediately after work, you see, and I took the train from Government Center to Haymarket (I assumed it was still crappy out), and I was pleasantly amazed.

To nobody in particular:

"Ashokan Farewell" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" are tied this week for people telling me it's their favorite song, at one apiece.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

So I was playing merrily away at the Red Line Downtown Crossing stop last night, and this Large T Official approached me and said, "You're a little early."

Cue blank innocent look.

"You know you're not supposed to be playing during rush hour."

(what?) "Oh, I didn't know..."

"Yeah, because if there's a station announcement and we have to evacuate the station, all people will be able to hear is you."

The official Subway Performer guidelines state: "The MBTA shall prohibit performers or groups of performers from generating noise levels exceeding the sound level of 80 db(A) measured at a distance of twenty-five feet from the performer or group of performers."

A violin played normally reaches between 60 and 70 decibels, although I do not know at what distance. (Other sources may vary.) Also, if I hear anything other than "Attention passengers, the next Mars-bound train is arriving," I either stop playing or drop way down in volume. If I can hear and understand the announcements with the fiddle right under my ear, I'm sure other people are fine.

I tried to explain this to the Official T Man, who came back with "That's nice, but you're not supposed to play until 6:30. I won't say anything this time, but..."

Now, regardless of the fact that rush hour, which seems to be 7AM-10AM and 4PM-7PM, is the most logical time to play for maximum visibility and income, there is no official rule limiting performing hours. The guidelines do say that performers must leave the station by 11PM or when the station closes, whichever is earlier, and "With reasonable notice to performers, certain Performance Areas may be limited to certain hours in the interest of public safety", but I don't think that being scolded by a T person at random counts as "reasonable notice."

I played for about another twenty minutes, and when I left, the same T official appeared to be harrassing the food vendor.

(Incidentally, in researching this, I found a site declaring, "Henoch points out that a symphony such as Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelungen exceeds 110 decibels at some points." Although there exist many symphonies written for large groups that I'm sure can exceed 110 decibels, The Ring is a cycle of four operas. Epic Germanic operas. With sopranos. My God, are there sopranos.)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dear Sir:

I am normally more than happy to take requests, if I know the tune. The cute little three-year-old the other day had to settle for "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" rather than "Baby Beluga", but she seemed happy enough.

I am also generally well-pleased if the requests involve a tip, although that is by no means a requirement.

However, there are certain request protocols I prefer to see followed:

1) I don't care how well you speak English in general, but if you cannot phrase and/or pronounce your request so that I can understand it, mumbling in your native language won't help. Even if you were to speak coherently in your native language, I might have half a chance of deciphering it.

2) If you want to try to sing your request to me, please try to be capable of achieving more than two distinct pitches (unless you're requesting something by Philip Glass). Also, I can hear your droning fine from a greater distance than two inches from my ear.

3) I have grave doubts surrounding the contents of your Sprite bottle, unless Coca-Cola has come out with a Sprite Smashed variety. You make me nervous when you're swaying periously close to the fiddle.

4) FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, BACK UP AND DO NOT TOUCH ME. I really cannot emphasize this strongly enough. Especially when I'm backed against a wall. It left me alarmed and confused as to what you were actually requesting. I will grant that you didn't so much touch me as kind of tip over into me, but the Fiddler has a bubble, and you were waaaay inside it.

5) Put the tip in the case, not in my hand.

6) I admire your persistence in coming back again, and I would probably have refunded your two dollars (one for each attempt), but I was so creeped out by the end of our exchange that I feel no guilt in having kept it.

In conclusion, I'm sorry I couldn't play your request, but don't ever do that again.


The Accidental Fiddler
So my day job is in a field with mostly non-artsy people, and by my being there, everyone gets a chance to see how the other half lives.

One of my co-workers asked me if people talk to me while I'm playing and if I minded.

Yes, people talk to me. I'm out in random places in public playing the fiddle; the point is to get attention (and ideally tips). I don't usually mind, but basic etiquette should still hold.

Appropriate things to say to a busker: "Thank you", "What's that tune?", "I hope you don't mind Sacajaweas" (not in the least, thanks!), "Do you know [insert tune here]?", "I used to/currently play." "Here, have five thousand dollars as a token of my appreciation."

OK, so maybe that last one is wishful thinking.

Not so appropriate things to say to a busker: "AreyouwiththeBSOdoyouknowthatonesongyou'rewiththeBSO
doyouknowShlmielFreedbergmywife andIaregoingtohavethreekids." (I am NOT with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and did not claim to be. In fact, every time he mentioned it, I corrected him. He mentioned it several times. If I were BSO material, would I be playing in the park? I mean, rumor has it a world-class violist busks around here, but I haven't seen her yet. And if I do, I'll probably end up falling at her feet in homage, and that would just be embarrassing for everybody.)

"Ah don't lahk what yer playin'. Ken you do some uh that fiddlin' stuff? Ah lahk that." (OK, so there wasn't so much of a hick accent, but there was a strong smell of moonshine.)

*in the midst of a ramble about having found Jesus* "Are you a man or a woman?" (Uh...I know I have short hair, and I was wearing a button-down shirt and khakis, and I hadn't spoken yet but really, I don't think my appearance is that androgynous.)

"Can I take you home?" (AAAAARGH)

Also, please wait until I'm between tunes to try to engage in any lengthy conversation with me; I have a fiddle going three inches from my ear, and that generally means I can't hear you.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

For the past few weeks, I have been busking around the metro Boston area. I intend this blog to be a chronicle of my adventures in playing for strangers for tips.

Some highlights thus far: Playing "Ashokan Farewell" and having a lovely young lady tell me it was her wedding song. Playing "Danny Boy" and having an older couple stand and listen to me, and when I was done the gentleman told me "That's my song. I'm Danny." Fascinating any number of small children. Having an elderly gentleman on oxygen tip me $10 for "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Seeing Cool Urban Teens (tm) dance a jig when they don't know I'm looking. Finding a small fiddler and his father at Fanueil Hall and playing with them for a while.

Some lowlights: Disheveled men who talk to me (and by "disheveled" I mean "appearing to be homeless and generally smelling strongly of alcohol, but I don't know for certain they're homeless." I don't mind being talked to. I do mind when people stand too close and talk too much so I can't play, because no playing=no tipping). The stranger who hugged me. I was then considering putting up a "DO NOT TOUCH THE FIDDLER" sign, but I think most people are appropriately inhibited about such things. The young woman who told me I'm a disgrace to musicians...well actually, she had a strong accent, so I'm not entirely sure what she said, and even if that is what she said, it was too funny to really be a lowlight.

Creative tips: Change from Bermuda, Singapore, Bahamas, various other places (I love foreign coins, so this is fine). A variety of Jesusy tracts (I don't mind these either, as long as there is also a tip involved). A flowery branch from a tree (sweet gesture, but I'm pretty sure it came from a tree in the Public Garden where it shouldn't have. It lasted for quite a while in a glass of water at home until the cats started eating it). Extra's new Watermelon flavored gum (sadly, I cannot recommend it. Too chemically).

As you can see, The Accidental Fiddler is excessively fond of parenthetical comments.

Today looks cold and damp, so I will be going underground.