Busking in Sydney: Goodbye to Martin Place


London, UK
I arrived just after 12.30 in the hot afternoon sunshine and strode confidently to my usual spot in Martin Place, two meters in front of the War Memorial. I looked around at the faces of the people eating, talking, walking, standing and sitting.

When I first started busking, I used to look into my case as I set up, unwilling to meet anyone's eyes, afraid of any unfavourable judgement I might find there. In the manner of someone who fears a particular thing, you search for hints of it everywhere and see it in everyone. In my last day busking in Martin Place, I looked into the faces of the people around and felt secure. Most people are busy being caught up in their own day to day dramas and the immediate happenings of their lives to notice you setting up as a busker or to care long enough to cast any censure in your direction. People tend to simply navigate around you. It is a rare person who is so attuned to their outside environment to actually see , think and react to their immediate environment in real time. It is similar to the difference between being on the trip of a lifetime when you hungrily devour everything within range of your ears and eyes. When you return to the daily routine of your normal life, many of those questing sense are blunted or turned inwards in the direction of the bills, getting to work, what is waiting for us in our inboxes, our loved ones, plans for the evening, what other people are thinking of us and what we might have said in a past situation. Ask yourselves, how often have you been surprised when, stopping for a moment on a familiar route, you open your eyes, look up and see things you never noticed before?

Secure in the knowledge that, short of getting completely undressed, I remained at best, casually observed, I set up quickly, hoping that the lurid pink bag I was carrying would not draw more attention than the music I was playing. I warmed up with scales and arpeggios, limbering up my fingers.

This session was for me. i would not be making any great effort to reach the audience. I wanted to play for the simple joy of being able to play for my own pleasure. I listened to the sound reflecting from the high walls and noted the change in sound as people walked directly in front of me. I closed my eyes and let my fingers measure out the notes as they had done so often before and luxuriated in the music which spilled forth. Occasionally, I got so caught up in a longer piece of music that my concentration would dip beneath a critical threshold and I forgot what I was playing, leaving me adrift mid-song with scant clue as to where i actually was in the piece of music.

Occasionally, I heard coins drop into my case. Some people take care to place their money into your case. Others do what I have called the "drive-by", they walk by, slow down just a little bit, drop the knee and shoulder for the coin drop and continue back to normal walking speed without breaking stride. However, there are dangers to this approach. The foam/plastic interior of my case can be unforgiving ground for the badly dropped coin - sometimes they bounce right back out onto the floor. Some people come back and put the coin back inside with greater care. Some do not notice and continue to walk, leaving me to wonder whether I should stop playing and pick up the coin or not. The ones I find most amusing are those who do the drive-by, notice the bounce out as they breeze past and then are caught in the agony of indecision: Should they go back and retrieve the coin or leave it and walk on. There is half a second where they are still trying to walk, head craned around to watch the escaping coin, hand still poised in the coin-toss position.

But today, I played for myself. I played because I could and because I felt I earned the right to be on Martin Place. I played as a tribute to having overcome nerves, timidity and self-consciousness. I played as one who has been both scorned and praised, ignored and feted, photographed and philosophised with. I played and appreciated both the days when I played my fingers off for scant reward and those days when you just didn't feel like playing yet was extravagantly recompensed.

I finished after an hour and twenty minutes of music. I packed up my sax. I scooped up and pocketed all the coins that the public had donated and zipped my case closed. I took one last look at Martin Place and left as I came. Unheralded and unapplauded. However, I left knowing I had been heard. I had brought a smile to one or two faces and had the satisfaction of taking on a challenge, enduring and in the end, enjoying it greatly. I smiled and did not look back.
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