Busking in Sydney: Days when you just can't be bothered


London, UK
There are days when you simply cannot be bothered. Wake up as if through molasses, drag yourself through to the shower, breakfast and begin the walk to Martin Place. Sometimes I used to catch the bus because it was just too much effort to walk in the midday heat. The saxophone strap grips and pulls your skin through your increasingly sweaty t-shirt. Every cafe calls out for you to stop for a minute. Every ATM whispers that it'd be ok if you treated yourself to a coffee and didn't bother playing. There seem to be no decent places around to get playing in. Motivation isat an all-time low and every minor impediment became an insurmountable obstacle. Other musicians have got to the best spots before you, or their amplifiers are way too loud. Or perhaps it's just that you don't, won't simply can't bring yourself to care enough to engage in musical fisticuffs.

In an attempt to appease that part of you which shakes its head in disappointment at your taking the path of least resistance, I have tried a couple of times to turn the aborted busk into a practice session. The difference between a busk and a practice session is as follows: a busk is a public performance with the hope of monetary reward from a grateful public. You put yourself out in the public eye, run through your best repertoire pieces, showing off at times and at other times stumbling through, hoping that your mistakes aren't as glaringly obvious to the world and everyone else as they are to you.

A practice session on the other hand is where you work on all the knotty problems which keep tripping you up as you play. the things you aren't confident of including in the performance. All the building blocks of a well-founded technical playing ability: Scales, arpeggios, long tones, overtones and patterns. These are the rough bits. The non-crowd pleasing elements. The honks and squeaks. The boring bits. The dull grind which eventually permits you the versatility to play your instrument well. For those bits, you don't need the whole world watching you figure it out. My pride as a performer (or maybe just my pride, full stop) doesn't permit me to comfortably put this all out on display. I want to be as far from curious ears as possible.

The problem for me with "sod-busking-for-today-I'll-practice-instead" days is that I am usually in the centre of town by the time I slide downwards to this conclusion. Most civil architecture leans away from cubbyholes of absolute privacy which are accessible to joe public, so most places available to your average busker-but-desperate-to-practice are very open to the rest of the world.

On St Patrick's day, I had such a day. I went into town and returned to my hostel, disgruntled at having dragged a tenor saxophone into town for no good reason. I sat and chatted with the other residents of my hostel and then sought some practice time at one of the parks in Glebe Village where I had found a nice secluded spot. On this particular day, the park was completely overrun with families, dogs, runners, walkers, children, picnickers and other assorted park-goers. I don't mind other people generally, as long as I can find a quiet place somewhere. There was no such corner to be found on this particularly Irish day. So having been musically thwarted at every turn, sometimes there is nothing that can be done but to order a large, meaty pizza and wash it down with a cold bottle of beer.

The moral of this particular story is, unlike a desk job where it is possible to turn up hung over, completely bored and work on auto-pilot; when you're busking, turning up late means you might not have anywhere to play. Turning up hung over means that you probably won't play particularly well, which in turn means that you are unlikely to be well remunerated. Not turning up at all means that your conscience nags you for copping out or urges you to take yourself off and be useful at least once in the course of the day. And people ask you how the busking went. And you are forced to pay heed to how feeble your excuses sound when you actually try to articulate them.
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