Tasmanian Street Musicians

Yesterday I walked to the Salamanca Market in Hobart, Tasmania, a street market that opens every Saturday. Much like everything else I’ve experienced here in Tasmania, the market had ‘calmly dramatic’ feel to it, filled with three hundred stalls and bustling with thousands of people, yet not feeling one bit chaotic or rushed.

There were lots of street musicians strewn about. There was a teenage girl on the flute, a young man singing to an acoustic guitar, an older gentleman attempting to play the ukulele, and another selling CDs.

After walking around a bit, I noticed the young man with the acoustic guitar had joined another young musician. The two men, who did not seem to know each other, started playing as one, carefully watching each other as they tried to find a rhythm.

A few of these musicians seemed comfortable performing, but there were many others who made it obvious they were struggling with stage-fright. I remember seeing a young man sitting on a bench through one of the stalls, set back away from the crowds as he quietly sang to himself and tapped on his guitar. I wondered what he was thinking.

At one end of the market there was a young girl, perhaps ten or eleven, holding a violin and glancing around nervously. She found the courage to start playing just I walked past her and several people turned as they heard the music, their faces going from curious to astonished when they saw her age.

Walking down Kennedy Lane, into Salamanca Square where families gathered to relax around a water fountain, there was a young boy band playing. One boy on the drums, one on the keyboard, and two more standing up with guitars. The lead singer wasn’t more than eight, his flushed red face and closed eyes telling me he didn’t want to see all the people stopping to smile at him. His singing was horribly off pitch, but his soul made that irrelevant.

Down the other end of Kennedy Lane, down the quiet narrow end with tall stone walls on either side blocking the already diffused sunlight, there was another musician standing in the shadows. I recognized him immediately from my walks around the city earlier in the week. But I had never seen his face. Or was it a girl? I couldn’t tell. He wore a expressionless white mask, baggy jeans, and a faded blue sweatshirt with the hood pulled over. The only thing more unsettling than his ghostly appearance was the tune that he added to the scene. Picking gently at a closely clutched guitar, he played with the sound of each string ever so carefully, clearly having more experience than a casual passerby would notice. Perhaps that’s why he wore an expressionless white mask.

I walked around the market a few more times, not really knowing where I was going or what I was looking for. Around the middle of the market, at the end of a closed street, there were two men playing music and generating a crowd. Not being much for crowds myself, I stepped off to the side, a bit behind the musicians. There I noticed several guys in black suits sitting on the ground, with bags of wires and instruments and other musical equipment sitting on the street around them. As they laughed and watched the crowd, I realized they were next in line, awaiting their turn in the spotlight.

It was here, facing in the same direction as the musicians, that I noticed a man in the crowd step up and throw some money into a guitar case. He smiled and stepped back into the crowd to continue watching. There was something about his posture that told me he was standing there simply to encourage others to step up and give. Not many did.

Every single one of the musicians I had walked by, from the young girl playing the violin, to the person picking at the guitar in a white mask, had a bucket or instrument case in front of them collecting donations. But I hadn’t given anything.

As I ate breakfast this morning, I reflected on all the musicians I walked by and I felt bad for not giving anything, especially not to the children. I realized that even if I had given money to every single one of the musicians, it wouldn’t have amounted to more than a few dollars.

But how much hope and validation might I have given in the process? What if my giving something meant that one of those children felt inspired to see their dreams through? How could any amount of money be valued higher than that possibility?

Perhaps the problem lies in my relationship to money. Perhaps deep down inside there is still a lot of insecurity and scarcity that I’m not recognizing, a part of me that is reluctant to give because I’ve spent so much of my life living in fear of not having enough.

I do have enough. In fact, I have more than enough.

Next week I’m going back to the Salamanca Market. I’m going to give something to every musician that I can find. In fact, maybe I should make this a permanent habit, to always give something to street musicians. Unlike beggars, they’re clearly offering something in return. Instead of just asking, they’re creating something and hoping that you’ll find value in it.

But more likely than not, they’re also asking for you to support their dream, to show them that it’s a dream worth working towards.

All dreams are worth working towards and I believe there is no better way to invest in others than to help them achieve those dreams. What’s your dream and how are you working towards it? Let me know and I will send you something. (Please include your PayPal email address.)

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  1. Is it possible you were so burnt by your past problems with money that in some way you’re running away from money? Just a thought I had.

    You receive money for your dream. It’s interesting that you didn’t donate your money to other people’s dreams.

    Could it be that you’re not sure if they’re serious or not? Could it be that what they were doing just didn’t impact upon your soul?

    I’ve only donated to street performers once in my life. That was because what they did delighted me so much I was sad their performance ended. So I gave them some money as a gesture of my appreciation.

    • Now that you present those questions for me to think about, I think it actually has far more to do with my past history of being shy and not wanting to stand out. Which is even more silly, but that’s the truth.

      I say this only because as my income has increased dramatically over the past year, I’ve been much more willing (because I’m able?) to donate and give to others. Just yesterday I donated $10 to the developer of a free WordPress plugin because I wanted to show my support for his work (and because I use the plugin here on this site). I’ve also made about two dozen other donations to various people this year.

      I feel that if I was more certain about where to donate larger sums that I would be doing that as well. (I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I’ve narrowed down two organizations (Nepal FREED and BlinkNow) that I plan to make big donations to before the end of the year.

      So, back to street musicians. I think it was probably more a social thing, more a remnant of my shy past, an artifact of my introverted personality that has yet to be addressed. I’m good at setting an example regardless of how much I stand out, but only when I’m 110% sure of myself. Now I’m 110% sure about donating to street musicians. 🙂

      Thanks for the food for thought!

  2. Beautiful story..
    Here in Berlin, I try to give to everyone, beggars, musicians.. And there are sooo many of them, on the streets and trains!
    It means that I spend an extra 10 euros a month or so, but what does that mean to me? Three beers? One meal?
    The best strategy is to have some coins always handy in your pocket, so you don’t have to go through the ‘extra’ effort of getting your wallet out. 😉

    • The funny (sad?) thing is, I remember having coins in my pocket the whole time I was walking through the market. Not only did I have coins in my pocket, but there were several occasions when I was holding the coins in my pocket while walking past some of those musicians. :/

      But you’re right. Even if it meant spending an extra $50 month by giving a little something to them, I think it’s a worthy investment if we can personally afford it (and that’s where I think knowing our enough comes into play).

  3. I am glad that you chose to share this. Your experience of travel these few months is delightful to observe through what you share.

    Might the hesitation with street musicians be a stigma around “homelessness”…that perhaps they are on the streets and will “squander” money? It is in my area. I feel once I have given a gift, it is not for me to decide “how” it is used.

    While money is wonderful…when I didn’t have excess money, I shared my resources with those pursuing their dreams. Generosity comes in many forms, and when I didn’t have money, I still felt “rich” because I could vest what I did have (time, energy, extra space in my home, extra food). To give what you do have is a wonderful feeling of abundance.

    As far as street musicians, I slip a thank you note into their bucket, and in between “sets” I speak with them, and later bring homemade food (because I always have extra, and after a while we all get to know each other). I think to feel affirmation of your talent, and support, is as essential as money.

    If we equate online sites with street musicians, one can apply the same principle.

    For the majority of my life, I have been surrounded by “dream squashers”. My dreams had been quite big, and I wasn’t surrounded by people who understood or supported them. (I understand now, that was my way of learning, and I have done the inner work to change that!).

    My two big examples are choosing to raise my children as a single mom aboard a sailboat, and choosing to create Facets without an external full-time job. It took (still takes!)courage and a lot of faith to vest in my dreams and allow them to unfold. From the response, my message enriches, and that is what fuels my courage and allows me to keep stretching into the unknown. I am living my dreams. Daily. The big version is to sail port to port with Facets as my platform. (I am learning and leaning into it). My paypal is my email address if you would like to contribute.

    • Hi Joy,

      Thank you for sharing a bit of your story here and sharing the lessons you’ve learned. 🙂

      As I mentioned in my reply to Alan, I think the reason I hesitated giving to the street musicians was less about the street musicians or my attitude towards how they would use the money, and more about simply not being sure of myself enough to stand out of the crowd.

      I have no problem donating, as you know from my donations to you, and I’ve donated to many people this year. The difference was that all these donations were online. There was no face-to-face contact or strangers standing around me.