Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"Play Something Different!"

If you’ve ever spent any time in subway stations, be it in New York, Boston, or Chicago, you’ve no doubt seen musicians of various sorts down there. Some are impressive, others, not so much. They always have a means of donating money; an open guitar case, a cup, a baseball cap.

Anyway, I’m sure all Chicagoans are familiar with this one woman who plays the guitar, the violin, whistles a melody – all at the same time. Oh and she also has tap shoes and a tambourine. She was down there a couple of days ago and I snapped a photo of her for you to see.

She’s been there for years, usually in the Lake Street station. I’ve lived in Chicago nine years and she’s been there all this time. Like I said, she plays a 12-string guitar, a violin, and whistles and taps all at the same time. Pretty impressive, right? Tourists certainly think so. She usually has a crowd of them standing around and I imagine she rakes in quite a bit of cash from them.

But I’ve heard her performance year after year, and I’ve noticed some things about it that really make it not so impressive.

Whenever she does play the guitar and violin at the same time, she plays the same song. She only knows one song.

She’ll do some picking on the guitar, a melody in the key of A minor. Whenever she plays the guitar and the violin at the same time, she really doesn’t. She whistles a melody, accompanied by the guitar and it only has two chords in it, A minor and E major. (I don’t even play guitar and I can play those.) Then, in between chord-changes, she screeches the bow across the violin on the open E string. (An E is in both the A minor and E major chords, so it sounds like she’s accompanying herself.)

Her whistling consists of this haunting melody but there’s this one high note that is always way out of tune. For nine years, that out-of-tune high note has bugged me.

Her tap dancing only consists of a simple triplet pattern during a four-measure break in the song.

So here’s how it goes. She’s whistling her melody with the out-of-tune high note with the following accompaniment:

Strum, strum-strum, strum strum (that’s the guitar)
eeee! eeee! (the E-string on the violin)

Strum, strum-strum, strum strum
eeee! eeee!
Strum, strum-strum, strum strum
eeee! eeee!
Strum, strum-strum, strum strum

Tappety, tappety, tappety, tappety
Tappety, tappety, tappety, tappety, tap.

Guitar interlude . . .

Strum, strum-strum, strum strum
eeee! eeee!
Strum, strum-strum, strum strum
eeee! eeee!
Strum, strum-strum, strum strum

I’m sure if anyone from Chicago is reading this, they can attest to the above description of the one song she plays.

The fact that Chicagoans have heard this song, over and over, for years was made very evident one time. I was down there and she was playing away, impressing the tourists. All of a sudden, some guy yelled out, “Play something different!!!” It really echoed very loudly in the crowded subway station.

Sigh. . . .

Okay, that guy was me.


Oh my gosh! I found a clip of her on the U-Tubes. It contains a lot of interviews with her and stuff, but you can hear exactly what I was describing above at the 9:00 minute mark. You'll see what I mean about the out-of-tune whistling. (I'm know. I'm a snurd.)


At 3:52 PM , Blogger Citymouse said...

I am trying to talk my son into getting his little peddlers permit and go downtown for the summer. He works at a summer camp-- but I think he could earn more in the city.

At 9:53 PM , Blogger Miss Healthypants said...

OK, I still need you to prove to me that you could do what that woman does! :) :)

At 5:51 AM , Blogger William V. Madison said...

Heckling buskers? You are a tough customer.

For all we know, she’s spending her spare time in music libraries, looking for other material that would be suitable to her repertoire; and rehearsing and polishing those numbers until they are ready for public consumption. She’s a perfectionist in her art -- and then you come along.

(But I do sympathize with you, too. There was a guy who played the erhu in the 14th Street Station in New York, and after only a few months, I was ready to beg, plead, and pay him to play any number that wasn’t so depressing. On the other hand, “Yankee Doodle” would sound depressing on an erhu.)


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