Buskers, Bears and Music

Street performance or busking is the practice of performing in public places, for gratuities, which are generally in the form of money and edibles. People engaging in this practice are called street performersbuskersstreet musiciansminstrels, or troubadours.  Street performance dates back to antiquity, and occurs all over the world.


Busking is something that we need more of in Vancouver.  Walking down the streets of the city would be vastly more flavourful and enticing if this ancient profession were more prevalent.  While I have nothing but respect for those who do street performances, it does lack a lot of perks the majority of people want in a job(job security, dental, eye care, a lunch room, unlimited photocopies, things to steal after you quit or get fired).  And while I can understand the draw of it, Vancouver lacks the number and quality of buskers pretty much for the same reason we don’t have tourist attractions over a hundred years old.  We lack the history needed for a true busking tradition.

In Europe, buskers get everywhere(At least that I’ve been to, I’m sure there’s a nook or cranny somewhere on the continent that they’ve yet to discover).  It’s hard to go anywhere in a big city and not find someone playing music, performing magic or entertaining an audience with a comic performance.  In London I saw a man weave together magic and comedy to amuse and entertain a good hundred people on the street.  In Paris a small trio of (possibly and probably gypsy) musicians distract a crowd of tourists while their light-fingered compatriots ducked their way through the crowd.  And in Nice, I watched a quartet of buskers attempt a French take on American rock and roll at the crossroad of four restaurants.  Right afterwards a group of jugglers and acrobats shared the same space.


Rock and Roll Buskers
Rock and Roll Buskers


Vancouver has it’s street musicians, but many are unfortunately homeless men and women with guitars.  This isn’t to say all buskers are homeless or all homeless are buskers, but the entry level to this profession doesn’t seem to be very high and seems to lend itself to the cardboard box and tinfoil hat crowd.  Either way, a healthy and vital society of buskers seems to require one key component that we simply don’t have and won’t have for a long while yet in Vancouver: age.

This city isn’t old by any definition of the word.  Vancouver is old in the same way that wild grizzly bears make safe pets: they don’t and Vancouver isn’t.  Busking requires a history and tradition of entertaining crowds in a city friendly to their occupation, much like house pets also require a history and tradition of not mauling you to death.  And this isn’t something that can be created, any more than a grizzly bear can be made into a cuddly and loving non-death-machine.  Okay, enough about bears and claws, back to music.

Busking has a romanticism to it that entices people, and it appeals to me in so many ways.  I can appreciate someone playing music for fun or for the love of it without being recognized for their passion. I can also appreciate someone who has a love of magic but can’t overcome the barrier of entry into indoor performances or recognition.  I’ve spent a few years trying to get into the teaching profession as a full time job, but there’s this wall that has been erected by the human urge to craft invisible barriers which has a sign saying that I need X to do Y even though I am perfectly capable of doing Y already. Experience opens the door and gets me further, but I need to climb the schooling ladder a few more rungs in order to get over the wall.  Except that I don’t really know how high or wide it is, it being invisible and all.

But back to busking…wait, where was I going with this? [shuffling papers]

I honestly believe music is best appreciated outdoors, and this includes classical orchestras and black tie performances.  Music feels wild and uncontrolled, and putting it in an enclosed space feels confining.  Buskers are my preferred form of enjoying music because it meets these conditions and I don’t know what’s going to happen: the music could be instrumental, card tricks or maybe staged combat.  Pub music comes close to this as well, except that I can’t hear a damn thing except the music inside a pub. And in Vancouver we simply don’t get this(the rain might be a deciding factor since I’ve yet to see someone play music and hold an umbrella at the same time).  Outdoor concerts help, but, like giant murder bears, outdoor concerts lack that personal and private touch.  Although I suppose a bear killing you is outdoors and very personal and probably very private(okay, no more about bears!).

Busking has apparently been around since antiquity(Romans, Greeks, Trojan horses and all that jazz, Wikipedia I hope you’re not lying).  Vancouver hasn’t been around for nearly that long and that isn’t about to change any time soon. There’s one place in Vancouver I can definitely find buskers and not homeless stringed instrument enthusiasts.   Hopefully I can find more.

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