Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I was in Grand Central Terminal yesterday and I walked past a busker.

I haven't seen a lot of buskers in New York.  In fact, I don't think I'd seen any before this guy.  In Cambridge, I would see five or six in an hour.  Some were full groups with electric equipment, some were orchestral quartets.  There was an opera singer who sang accompanied by a tape recorder providing the music and also a old tramp who blew into a tin whistle and jumped about in a performance where effort trumped ability.

This guy was alone and playing something classical on a violin, which seemed appropriate for the tall marble halls and gilded chandeliers of Grand Central.  He was so good that I actually thought there was more than a single violin playing.  I watched him to see where the rest of the music was coming from, but it was just him, the violin and the bow.

Anyway, I pulled out a dollar and walked over to drop in into his violin case.  As I was doing so, I noticed a small sign in there that read, "Laid off".  I have to say that left me confused.  I wanted to pay him for his work, but now I seemed to have given him charity.  I'm sure if he was desperate enough to write the note, he would take his money anyway it came, but I couldn't help feel that a man with his talent would get more from passers-by paying for his music, than from giving for his condition.

On a more personal point, what does it say about me that his note took away some of my enjoyment of the moment?  I think it's because it changed our relationship from equals trading money for music, to him becoming a supplicant to my charity.  Am I hard-hearted because I don't like that, or not hard-hearted enough because I even notice it?

1 comment:

  1. I read your post with interest.
    Busking is actually prohibited in Grand Central... which right at the beginning of your story tipped me that this violinist is not one of the 'regulars' (NYC buskers).
    There are lots of buskers in the subway. I know because I'm one of them :)

    All the best,

    Saw Lady