I grew up playing classical music (violin in orchestras and symphonies, piano recitals, and Suzuki competitions). Now I prefer to play music for fun with friends and for strangers. As we’ve traveled through Europe we’ve come across street musicians in every major city. I feel best when I’m in a city with street musicians; buskers. There’s something aspirational and generous about buskers. When they play, it’s a gift. You can listen free of charge. If you want, you can give a few euros, dollars, pounds or pennies; as much or as little as you want. I think it’s a perfect system for art and commerce.
Driving through the Greek countryside on our way to Italy, I said to Alison, “Hey I’m thinking of busking in Rome. You want to join me?” She smiled mischievously and said, “Yeah.” We shook on it. When we got back to Italy, we recruited Kate and Jaci Alonso, whose parents were back in the states for the next couple weeks. We called the band, Erik & Sons. I’m a fan of Mumford & Sons and thought this was funny since Kate, Jaci nor Alison are my sons. We weren’t taking ourselves too seriously. But each morning or early afternoon, one of the girls would ask me, “Are we going to have band practice tonight?” “Of course,” I would say. We picked a dozen songs we all liked and decided to learn one each night. We spent the next two weeks working up an arrangement for each one. Kate and Jaci’s parents returned. Our two families parted ways for the next week, but we were all meeting up again in Rome.
Once in Rome, we settled into a shared flat. We hadn’t play together in a week so we decided to have one more rehearsal before prime time. It was late and we didn’t want to keep everyone in the apartment awake, so we went outside to the plaza. We played what I call a “Concert for No One.” It was late and we were away from almost all the foot traffic. Despite playing in a tucked away spot, a few people walked past and clapped. Some restaurateurs tried to wave us closer, hoping we would play in front of their restaurant. One man danced as he strode past with his companion. People were enjoying it and that encouraged us.
The next day we played for the people.
As we walked back to our flat, I told the girls, “It’s a different feeling to visit a city and give something. I feel like we contributed something to the river of life here in Rome.” People had stopped and listened, videod and clapped. We had contributed to their experience visiting or living in Rome. It felt good to give. Sure, we made a handful of euros, and that’s special money. I think money you earn doing what you love it special money. It’s magic money. It’s money people give of their freewill for something you are willing to give away for free. We used our money to buy a bunch of gelato.
After filming him, I found Ray Romjin on Facebook, connected and invited him to come busk with me in NYC sometime. He was kind enough to share some of his story with me and hand deliver a copy of his CD for which I paid him the going rate: “whatever is good for you,” he said. If you come across street musicians that you like, send me a clip. I’d love to discover more buskers from around the world.
One of our favorite live music events is Carols on Columbus. It’s a free Christmas concert open to the public. We’re sad to miss it this year, but here’s a throwback to a bygone year.