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Street Musicians

Sure, I love street musicians, I always have. So many times they have made my day. So many times they have changed my mood and the course of my day. Because, suddenly, I felt like…whatever I didn’t feel like doing before: writing, or talking to this or that person, or finishing this up instead of leaving it for tomorrow.

My interaction with them was always brief, how long it took to drop some money into their hat and slowly walk away. A matter of seconds. If I really felt compelled to listen, I stood aside and listened for a minute or two at the most. Then I walked away, even if I wasn’t heading anywhere specifically. Grateful for the gift of music they gave me, I always saw it as a token,  not a fully fledged present. After all, I knew I was not at the concert hall, but in the street.

My son doesn’t share my view on street musicians. For him, it’s all music, and he wants it, all of it, right there and then. He wants to absorb every single note, he wants to hold the instruments in his hands and he wants to make music. The same as when we take him to a music venue. He wants to stay until the music dies down, and then longer, hoping he might get a hold of the instruments.

The tactics he uses to approach street musicians are pretty much the same as those he uses when my husband and I take him to a music event of any kind. At first he simply stares, mesmerized, standing a distance away from the musicians. Then, slowly, he gets closer, and closer, and closer. Next, he tries to make an eye contact with a musician hoping he or she will offer to share the instrument. Sometimes he is happy to join the musicians with his harmonica or flute, the two objects we take with us wherever we go.

The only difference I perceive between going to a music event and listening to a street musician, at least from a practical standpoint, is that when we go to a music venue, our plan is to stay there and listen to the music, but when we encounter a street musician, we are usually on our way to somewhere else. I try hard to always honor my son’s love of music. Once I hear music on the street, I know we will have to make a stop. We will have to stay and listen to the music for at least ten minutes. But, many times, especially if we are on our way to a specific destination, after ten minutes of standing on sometimes quite a narrow sidewalk at maybe 30 degrees F or 95 degrees F, I start to plot how to get Andrei away from the music. See that balloon over there? Let’s go touch that big ball!

Unlike when we are at the playground, where I give two warnings a few minutes apart and then say, It’s time to go now,  and pick Andrei up, I always feel guilty to pull my son away from music. I admire his passion. I enjoy his passion. I want to support his passion. But after you spend twenty or thirty minutes with the first musician you see, and then deal with Andrei’s meltdown once you decide it’s time to move on, and then you spend twenty or thirty minutes with the next musician two blocks down the street, and then deal with another meltdown, you can’t help hoping there will be no more music any time soon…despite the fact that you love street musicians and Philadelphia for being such a music-rich city.

But there are always those days when you are not in a rush and can afford to spend a few hours standing at a street corner. A few days ago we had a day like that and I decided to simply follow Andrei’s lead. Hear that music?, Andrei said. Da (Yes), I replied. Of course, we crossed the street to hear the music. Of course, we parked the stroller to the side, and Andrei jumped out. I gave him some money and he dropped it into the  box standing in front of the musician. Then he stepped away and stared. The usual stuff. He started bouncing his head, and tapping the ground with his foot.  Ironically, we were on our way back from Andrei’s music class where Andrei refused to participate in most of the activities (the class rich in chanting and games might not be a good fit for Andrei who wants to get straight to business – instruments and music-making – and has zero interest in his teacher’s Baa, Baa, Baas and La-La-Las accompanied with parachute and bubble activities; but this  is material for another post).

I was surprised to see  how quickly Andrei  established a contact with the flute player (Andrei is usually shy and it takes him a while to warm up to the people he doesn’t know so his openness to the musician I thought was quite unusual). The musician at some point noticed we had a flute recorder and a harmonica in the stroller, and he asked Andrei to join him. Andrei  took this seriously. He picked up his flute and started playing. Madly. First from pretty far  away, then, slowly, he positioned himself right next to the musician. I stood aside and took some pictures and a few videos. People were stopping to watch this unusual duo, an older man and a two-year-old. They were smiling, clapping and bobbing their heads to the music.

Eventually, people started offering Andrei money. I was about to interfere, but Andrei  handled the situation in a way that was acceptable to me: he put all the money he got into the musician’s box (and eventually a single coin into his pocket).

I can’t say I was ready for the entire “show,” but I utterly enjoyed it.  The interference of money into my son’s love of music filled me with anxiety for a second.  Andrei understands the concept of money, but at least at this age I wanted him to keep it separate from his love of music. When money came into the picture, I was ready to step in, but my two-and-a-half-year-old son quickly solved the problem. He knew the box in front of the musician was for money, and he put the few dollars he got into the box.

I don’t know how long we stayed at the corner of Market and 13th Streets. Maybe for forty-five minutes, maybe a little longer. At the end, the musician gave Andrei a hug. Andrei  was glowing, happy with his performance. He didn’t protest when I said it was time to go.


If there was anything I dared want for my child, that was that he had a passion. Or two. An anchor. A compass.  I am happy to see he might be developing one.

  1. April 28, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Aw, what a cool story! I’m glad you’re able to foster your son’s love of music.

  2. Konstantin Boenko
    October 17, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    Thanks a lot for this great story!
    Konstantin, Russia

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