Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Confessions of a Busker

Katie Melua once remarked, upon seeing a 6-year-old Russian boy busking in Moscow, that busking is a rite of passage for a musician, although she also said that she felt 6 was a little young!

Well, at age 40, I have decided to return to busking, and I have been doing it for almost 2 months now, on and off, every week. I must say it has not been easy!

I first tried busking at The Zone in Rosebank in Johannesburg 10 years ago, when I was in my early 30s. Since then they have built the Gautrain (Johannesburg's subway or underground or metro), which has brought a whole new bunch of people to the area. South Africa has also changed a lot in the past 10 years, and now you will see all race groups with money, not just White people anymore, at the centre. Initially I was a bit worried... would a young hip Black lady give a bald White dude a tip for singing in her ear as she pays for her parking? To my shock initially, and great happy surprise, some of my biggest tips have come from the awesome Black people who now shop in Rosebank - and they are loaded. Chalk one up for my stupid prejudice...

The stuff I busk is quite different to my House music, which I do with very cool young producers. No, at The Zone I sing stuff from musicals and theatre and a bit of opera and a few of the oldies. It is beautiful music. Occasionally I throw in an original. Not being great at guitar and with a keyboard being impractical, I just stand and sing a cappella - which is still awesome. In the underground parking areas my voice sounds amazing because it has built-in reverb.

Today a lady came up to me whilst I was singing and said to me, "Your talent is wasted in this place." I was so encouraged and thanked her for her kind words. About 20 minutes later I thanked a lady for giving me a tip, and she said, "No, thank YOU! It is beautiful." I was truly encouraged. Apparently today I made more than most buskers did.

But I won't lie... It is hard, and I really didn't feeling like doing it today. I felt introspective and insecure, but I kicked my own backside and decided to do it anyway.

Still, the people who are closest to me think that I am a professional pauper, standing, and I quote, "...on the side of the road begging for money." I can understand why they feel that way. I left a lucrative career in corporate marketing to pursue my dream of a full-time career in music, and I am much the poorer for it. It is the fourth time I have shunned the marketing world in pursuit of my musical dream, because I know that music is my telos, my calling, my highest value, my purpose and mission for this world.

I wonder sometimes, though: is the price too high? I am making so little money compared to what I used to, and on a day like today I am not happy that I have chosen music, because it has made me poorer. How can I find a way to make money from my music career? If others can, surely so can I. Well, that's the brave story I tell myself, but I certainly don't feel that way today...

No, I won't go back to corporate marketing, and even though I am now doing my doctorate and I should be earning the big bucks, still I find it hard to make music my career. Well, John Demartini would tell me that at least the addiction to my fantasy of music being a glamorous job is being shattered, so that I can deal with the reality of what music is really about. At least now I know what ABBA and Danny K are talking about when they say music is such a tough job, and you really have to love it.

As I was busy doing my hour of busking, and after I had finished, I felt better. Did I enjoy it? Very, very much. I loved singing. I love singing. It's so hard, but I still love it. And as I was doing it, and placing my voice higher and higher in my head, to get the best possible sound, I gave all my breath, and I loved it. And that's when the lady complimented me on my gift...

Does this blog entry have a happy ending? No. Music is a pain in the ass. But what to do? I am in love with music. And there's not a damn thing I can do about it. So I guess I better just get on with it and sing. What else should I do? Nothing. Sing or be damned. Sing or die. Make music till I die. As Pavarotti said, that is a life well lived, and that is what I have dedicated myself to...

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