Taking it to the streets! A busker’s story

By Sergio González | 11:12

With a little talent and no stage fright anyone can be a busker and get people to dance and dream

A busker’s story, playing their hearts and souls out from the forum in Rome to the Washington DC subway.

Performing music in the streets was the sole way music players had to make a living before theatres, electricity and recording started in the 19th century. Since the antiquity, they would wander villages and aristocratic courts all around the world entertaining both the lord and the villager to later ‘pass the hat’ on them, the very first form for a like button

Not liking you friends latest update is not the end of the world but if street performers didn’t engage their viewers, they had a bad time finding something to fill their bellies. The most talented ones were usually sponsored by educated elites but the regular ones had to use every tool at their reach to gain villagers’ attention at the main square, and making people laugh is always a sure purse-loosener.

However its success, mocking and joking isn’t always a safe ground. Long before Europe was old or even existed, the Romans had already established the minimum standards music performance should meet in the streets and they did it by law. The Law of the Twelve Tables -origin of Roman Law system and therefore ours- offered a deathly reward for those who made a living singing the fails of the Republic (SPQR) or making funny rimes about the Praetor latest fling.

Street performances not only cover music but all sorts of juggling, mime or theatre, just to name a few

Middle Ages would arrive and, besides tales of knights and castles, songs about impossible but eternal love were the ‘best-sellers’. The female role for any milady was Virgin Mary and in those times society regarded strictly lust and any public display of affection. However boys still wanted to meet girls so in Occitane, nowadays Southern France, our street performers -then known as troubadours- came up with the perfect idea, courtly love

They would make up their love songs spicy and playful enough to tempt and tease the ladies but disguised into poetry and beautiful symbolism to avoid Church’s censorship and conquer their admired and beloved damsels’ hearts.

These troubadours would meet high peaks of fame all across the continent, like a medieval boy band, and song after song the Catholic Church got more and more mad about it. The cardinals in Rome convinced the king of France to invade these brazen lands and so he did. From then on, troubadours would get the name of minstrels and their arts the stigma of prostitution, guile and general deceiving. It didn’t changed until Europeans set foot on America.

Vast lands were waiting for millions of adventurers and street musicians joined the huge caravans that crossed America looking for a better life. Their ways changed and selling new miraculous beverages or new inventions became part of the show. Timidly at first, these medicine shows would turn into modern marketing industry.

Buskers can also be magical fairies playing the violin in a Toronto morning

The English word busker comes from the Spanish word buscar [buskar] which mean to seek, as buskers were and are always looking (nowadays harder on YouTube than in the streets) for the audience’s ovation. Or is it the other way round?

The Washington Post organized a social experiment in 2007 that has become almost a urban legend. They wanted to know how we perceive beauty and if circumstances affect it, and they used busketing as the mean to learn it. On January 15th 2007, Joshua Bell played the violin for USA capital commuters in Washington DC subway for 45 minutes. Most people passed by minding their businesses, some others offered a quick dollar in their rush to work and those who were more willing to listen to Bach were all under 10 years old.

Joshua made around $30 playing with a $3,5 million violin. He is considered one of the most talented violin players in the world and an average ticket to his concerts is around $100. It surely makes you wonder what other beauty we may be missing so don’t hesitate it and allow yourself five minutes to enjoy busketers’ music next time you have the chance.

photo credit: Giui

photo credit: spDuchamp