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.