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Students take musical passion to downtown streets

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By Lawrence Chen and Elsa Chu:

Photo courtesy of Michael Underwood.

For seniors Gabriel Crane, Tommy Kidder, Anni Liu, Taesu Pak, Edward Sung and Shaun Yee, playing their respective instruments is not contained to the orchestra room. The group plays musical arrangements on University Avenue with their cases open for donations. This is commonly known as busking.

The group, which consists of one cellist, three violinists, a violist and a guitarist, plays a variety of pieces when they perform. These pieces range from classical pieces, which they commonly play in orchestra, to modern pop music.

The arrangements sometimes merge the two styles together, though the bystanders’ reactions are not always favorable. “Personally, I like modern pieces more, although classical pieces are easier for people to recognize,” Liu said. “I remember once we were playing ‘Pachelbel Canon’, and we switched over to a song by The Fray, ‘How to Save a Life,’ and everyone left.”

Other members of the groupagree with the idea that people enjoy tunes they recognize and lyrics they can identify. “It’s fun watching them sort of frown for the first few lines, like they’re trying to think of the piece that we are playing,” Crane said. “Then, they sort of lighten up once they get it.”

Although these students do earn money from busking, they do it completely for the fun, instead of for the monetary incentive. “We were thinking about not collecting tips in the future to remind ourselves why we were playing,” Liu said. “It’s mostly parents with little kids who give us $20 tips.”

Yee agrees with Liu, though he admits that the initial reason was for money. “We got the idea to play out on the streets to see if we could make some money that way, and we got a lot,” Yee said. “[But] ever since second semester started we’ve just been doing it for fun.”

According to the group, part of the joy of busking is in creating a positive environment for people on the streets. “It’s fun to put smiles on peoples’ faces,” Sung said.

In addition to creating a good atmosphere for viewers, Crane says that there are also other positives of busking. “It is a great way to practice, hang out with your friends and eat food,” Crane said. The members of the group all said that there are almost no negatives to busking.

By playing on the streets, the buskers get reactions from many passing people, most of which are positive. “They clap at the very end; they always clap,” Kidder said. According to Crane, most people stay and listen. Not all are as kind, however. “Some people just walk by and give you money,” Kidder said.

As for those who stay and enjoy the music, Liu sees a variety of people listening to their playing. “We get a lot of parents and kids, and we get couples,” Liu said. “Some people say really sweet things, like ‘Pachelbel Canon—Oh, we got married to this 15 years ago.’”

Liu, the cellist of the group, founded the group along with Yee. “Originally, we had to fundraise for orchestra, because we were going to Hawaii for [a competition],” Liu said. “We were selling these coupon books, and someone asked if we actually knew how to play instruments. So we decided to play our instruments [and go busking] next time.”

Because she had prior experience with busking, Liu says that she felt confident when playing for the public for the first time. “In the summer before my freshman year, I went to a farmer’s market and spent my whole summer busking with one violinist,” Liu said. “I enjoy creating an atmosphere for others. For playing, it’s a way of communicating. Busking also made me less shy.”

Although the busking group tried to play in San Francisco and in downtown Mountain View on Castro Street, the group prefers to play in their hometown. To hear the six seniors play pieces by The Killers, Lady Gaga and others, make sure stop by University Avenue on Friday evenings.

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Students take musical passion to downtown streets