THE EUROPEAN TRADITION OF THE TROUBADOUR
I’ve never tried soothing a savage beast with music, but I certainly have played my share of street music in Europe over the many years that I have lived here. Street music is a traditional part of European culture. There have been performances in public places for gratuities in every major culture in the world, dating back to antiquity. In most places in Europe today, if it is not overly loud or obnoxious, it’s tolerated by the authorities and appreciated by the public. Had I set up shop on the sidewalk or the boardwalk and put out my hat where I used to live in Virginia, I would have been immediately arrested for disturbing the peace, panhandling and loitering and then hauled in front of some old pig faced music hating judge and given a hefty fine, if not worse. Only in the large cities in America does street music enjoy a pseudo acceptance from the powers that be and even then not always. As with so many things that are accepted and commonplace in European culture, America has missed the boat when it comes to everyday street performances. In Europe, at least in the places I have been, it is seen as a respected tradition to be both enjoyed and supported.
When you set yourself up out on the street, or these days more likely in the pedestrian zones, you open yourself up to the world. A big wide world. Anything can happen and usually does. Bad things can come rolling down, but most all of the time that I played I found that the experience was positive, the people were generous and friendly and the music was truly appreciated. That is, providing you’ve got something good to offer. If your hat remains empty and you’re getting bad reviews, it’s called paying your dues. You work harder and the next time you get better. Of all the many experiences I have garnered over my time here, playing street music was an incredible and valuable lesson in humanity, friendship and taught me that, despite the fact that there are and always will be bastards crossing your path in life, the majority of people who toss a coin in your hat or cup or instrument case are kind, interested, curious and appreciative. I was given, apart from the money, things to eat, things to drink, things to smoke, offered places to stay, invited to parties and most of all, treated with respect and courtesy. And in Bristol, England I was even “discovered” by the manager of Dingwalls club and offered a job as the opening act for Richie Havens. That was perhaps one of the best things that ever got dropped into my guitar case. So the next time you see a shy wisp of a teenage girl sawing away on her violin labouring through a classical composition or a young guy playing and singing his heart out on the way to his fifteen minutes of fame somewhere down the road, stop for a moment to listen, make a small contribution and enjoy a centuries old tradition. Get yourself soothed…
Just around the corner from the Place Contrescarpe a French troubadour plies his trade on the Rue Mouffetard as a waiter from the Café takes a cigarette break and watches. Photo taken in Paris in May 2012.
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