Monday, September 26, 2011

Busker or beggar?

From the publication "Inside Halton".

       Kathy Yanchus’ bizarre essay (Kathy’s Komments in last Thursday’s Champion) on busking — or as she calls it, “panhandling” — left me shaking my head in wonder. To compare the ancient and legitimate practice of performing for tips with begging for change for booze isn’t only insulting, it displays what I can only assume is ignorance.

She asks if perhaps she’s missing something. Clearly, she is. Musicians and other performers have been busking since humankind first built streets for them to perform on. It’s a response to the fact that traditional theatre has always been a somewhat expensive proposition for both the performer and the audience. Street performing removes those financial barriers and allows public access to culture of all sorts. It’s the most democratic and yet capitalistic of practices: performers present whatever entertainment they like, free from censorship or sanction, and their audience pays them according to how much they enjoyed the show and what they can afford to toss in the hat. Good buskers are rewarded; bad ones give up and leave. The free market at work.

Many great performers got their start as buskers. Canada’s Loreena McKennitt was a regular fixture with her harp down at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto for many years and still plays there occasionally. Tracy Chapman used to busk in Harvard Square. And Guy Laliberté was a highly respected street performer in Montreal before he turned his little busking troupe into Cirque du Soleil.

This is why buskers are considered tourist draws in cities all around the world, from the bridges of Paris to Quincy Market in Boston to Busker Fest in Toronto. And of course Milton just had it’s first busker festival this past summer.
I would be happy to drive her down to the big city some day and show her the difference between a busker and a beggar.

Jennifer Smith, Milton

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