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Sam-I-Am Violin on the streets, fundamentalist Judaism, planting organic vegetables, and the like.

Busking on Ben Yehuda

ISRAEL | Thursday, 20 March 2008 | Views [2782] | Comments [2]

Eliezer Ben Yehuda Street, the heart of new Jerusalem. I ply my gypsy fiddle trade here.

Eliezer Ben Yehuda Street, the heart of new Jerusalem. I ply my gypsy fiddle trade here.

So you're playing music in public.

There's a tendency to let the money issue get to you when you put your music case out in front of you. Sure you want the validation of monetary payment. But it doesn't matter that you are playing in public for the interaction with others, for the live practice, for the desire to share music; your eye still keeps returning to the case, you still try to make snap judgments: how frequently are people walking up to you and bending over for the money drop? It's a challenge to stay unburdened, to focus on the humans walking by.

Ben Yehuda Street is a pedestrian walkway, a most famous one at that, littered with vats of leftover oil in the backs of falafel shops, sheepish but persevering religious men trying to convince you of the mitzvah of tefillin, bronze and wooden and silver and every kind of judaica in the windows of NEW! stores and CLOSING! stores and CLEARANCE! stores. I walked up with my friend Rob, me with my super-light, super-sleek violin case, and him with his borrowed behemoth of a guitar case, and we settled on some steps midway up the midrachov (walkway).

It continues to be a weird feeling, taking out the instruments and putting out the case and tossing some 'starter' money in, with people at your back watching and noting to themselves: These people are about to play for money.

Rob and I have played together twice before: ten minutes each, over the last two days, and the same two songs. Active encouragement by our listeners pushed us here, to the street. We don't know what we'll play or how it will sound. Rob describes his music taste as 'metal, with a love of hip hop'. He is a bassist more than a guitarist. Which means he's got funky riffs to show me.

And he does. He smooths out the heavy metal (think "Slipknot", the band) tunes, he syncopates classical music that has at one time or another been used for a rap song and passed into his head thus. And I do the only think I am any good at. Improvise. Among other things, we play 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow', Salt 'N Pepa's 'Push It' (rest assured I thought of you Matt Redovan and Ari Nielsen), and the Fugees' version of 'No Woman No Cry'. One hour, and here's some of the interactions:

A young man, waiting confidently and patiently by us until the end of a song, welcomes us with 'do you guys play around here?' We laugh, you mean like professionally? This is our third time playing together. He replies casually: 'You should walk up to some clubs, get yourselves gigs, and then call me.' Deft slide of a business card, "Ze'ev Midani, Events Coordinator."

A group of soldiers, of the male variety, walk by noisily, and one of them has a mind to plop down next to me and join the band, except his music is purely imaginary, and his instrument is his army-issue assault rifle. I smile and as he continues to "play", he motions towards me and I lend him my violin bow so he can actually partake in the music, as I hold the violin on my shoulder. Snaps of the camera from his comrades. Giggling. And then they are on their way.

A pair of Israeli's issue a polite request in Hebrew, 'can we film you?' No problem here, and so they proceed to set up their tri-pod and focus on us for two minutes, before silently, with a nod of thanks, being on their way. I do not know what the footage was to be used for.

A middle-aged woman, dressed in a long black dress, loiters on the street corner behind the walkers-by. Five minutes she stands, listening maybe, and then walks up not to the guitar case serving as our money collection box, but to my violin case behind me on the steps, and drops 32 shekels in and leaves. 32 shekels is 9 dollars.

And so, we conclude our playing for the day, agreeing to do it one more time before Rob returns home to Pennsylvania. Three days later, we play another hour on Ben Yehuda. There are more up-close interactions, and there are also mesmerized children hiding partially obscured behind their mothers' coats, receiving coins to drop sheepishly into our case before hustling back to safety. There are Bob Dylan requesters. There are people responding with subdued skipping to they music as they pass. There are my cold fingers losing their mobility in the late winter. And so on.

Tags: music



You rock.

  allwelcome Mar 20, 2008 11:18 PM


push it real good

  mredovan Mar 31, 2008 2:46 PM

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