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Busking in Wellington: Hello Cuba Street


London, UK
In a new country and on new busking turf, following the advice of all the Kiwis and people who have been to New Zealand, Wellington is the cultural capital of New Zealand and Cuba Street is where it was all happening, so I made my way there to try out my busking skills on the local populace.

The First Donor
When you start playing, your case sits there empty, awaiting public generosity. before teh first person has donated a penny or two, you feel curiously invalid as a busker - your reason for being there has not been validated until that point where someone thinks your playing is worth something. However, once the first donation has been made, it seems to encourage others and the donations to your worthy cause begin in earnest

Case Bounce
People pass, swoop and stop on occasion when putting money in your case. My case is slightly rubbery on the inside and if you throw your coin in at the right angle, it will bounce right out of the case, flying off on a random trajectory which always ends up on the pavement around the case. It usually inspires the "should-I-stay-or-should-I-go?" response in the donor, much to my amusement.

The Strange Lady
One lady walked by, looking very intently at the contents of my case. About 30 mins later, she walked back the opposite direction, scrutinising my face rather intently. She walked past then stopped, came back and chided me for being careless with money. 20c had bounced out of my case since her first pass and she seemed very offended by the fact I hadn't picked it up and replaced it in my case. My excuse was that my hands had been full at the time.

The Suits
They don't tend to stop, just slow down with some curiosity. They seem baffled by what you're doing there.

Wet Shoes
The saxophone is a woodwind instrument. A long metal tube where you blow through one end to get music out of the other. After a while, spit starts to accumulate at the bottom of the instrument. Depending on the weather conditions and how mobile you are when playing, from time to time, you feel a little warm liquid on one or more of your fingers. Not nice. Then you look down and notice that your saxophone has been dripping on your shoe. Time to stop and drain the excess because it's very distracting to find you have a spittle-dampened foot or warm, wet fingers.

The Fear of Playing for People you Know
Playing in front of strangers is really easy. You can cocoon yourself in the fact that even if you completely fluff the song, you don't feel too bothered because you are unlikely to see any of them in a different context. If there are people there you actually know, you become very concerned about what they think of your playing. On my final day in Sydney, I stopped off for my customary coffee in Caffisimo. They had been very kind to me during my time in Glebe, so I asked Pietro if it would be ok for me to play a little something for them as trade wound down for the evening. I sat at a window seat insdie the cafe and began to play. I was horrified to find that I was so nervous that my legs and hands were shaking slightly. Even making it through pieces of music I have known for ages was not guaranteed. Right until the second I finished, I was beset by nerves. Why? Because these are people you know, like and respect. I was worried about making myself look stupid or not providing the promised entertainment. Fortunately they were pleased with what I had played and I left feeling as if I'd given a little something back for all the kindnesses they had shown me. It was the least I could do and I left feeling lighter.

Busking and adverse opinions of your trade
With busking there is also the fear of adverse judgement of your music. "Do you really need the money? If not, why are you doing it?". There is a fine line between busking and begging. Busking is based on a well-honed skill or ability which is plied for the public. Begging is where you throw yourself on the mercy of passers-by for your daily bread. Looks of condescension still cut me to teh quick. Perhaps it's my pride, perhaps it is my need to show that I am not completely destitute. Sometimes it isn't a look of condescension but a reaction when you tell someone you've been busking. It reminds me of a time in a work context when I was introduced to someone who used to work back office in an adult entertainment company. The first reaction is "oh...that's interesting" while your brain fills up with white hot fuzz and millions of questions which you know are stupid and you shouldn't bother asking

"um...did you like what you were doing...I mean...were the people you very involved in your work...I mean to say...what made you do it...."

At my last hostel, there were a range of reactions from "oh, that's cool" through "oh, are you that broke?" to derisive snorts and rolled eyes. I am evidently not detatched enough from my pride or supremely self-confident enough not to give a damn what anyone else thinks. Some people do it well or at least give the impression of doing so but I still feel the stinging of my pride when I note someone looking down their nose at me.

Busking Etiquette
1. Have consideration for your fellow buskers. All they have to do is turn up their amp and you're stuffed, so get there early and remember that everyone's just trying to earn some pocket money.

2. Pay it forward. What goes around definately comes around quickly and efficiently. I have often had money put into my case by other buskers and I try to do the same for them in the spirit of comradeship. We're all in it for a little money and to bring a little light into the world, so it is incumbent upon us to keep the fires of musical appreciation burning

3. If you're in prime territory, let someone else have a go when you've been playing for a bit. Play, earn a bit and then move on when you've made enough. Trying to hang on in order to make a killing at the expense of another busker doesn't engender goodwill or good karma.
Saxholder Pro

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