I walk into the first door of a train car, sometimes blowing gently into my harmonica to keep it warm, take a quick look around, and jump right into a tune. I don’t introduce myself, I don’t give a spiel, I don’t ask for money. They can see plainly enough that there is a jar dangling from the head of my guitar; it reads that donations help with rent and traveling; they probably don’t care for anything else I have to say. If they enjoy my music and want to give, then I believe they will. I don’t feel the need to coax them or explain my financial situation. I pay rent (and thus am not homeless) and I’m playing guitar on a subway train. They can figure it out.
Sometimes I know they’ll recognize the tune. Other times I know they won’t. More often than not, I have no idea. It doesn’t matter too much. I’m just there to play good music. Maybe they’ll know it. Maybe they’ll like it. Either way, I’m just there to bring some joy, peace, hope, love, and music into their commute.
I try to look around intermittently through the song. I need to see who is listening, who is going through their purses/pockets, who looks angry or annoyed.
After I finish the tune, I move down the car to another door. Most of the people I walk past are either complimentary or totally indifferent. Depending on the reception I receive and the demeanor of the listeners, I’ll play anywhere from two to five songs on one car. I’m basically giving them a free concert on the train (rather than playing a single song and bolting).
Those who are kind enough to donate typically give a dollar bill or two, or else they’ll drop a handful of loose change in my jar (I’ve also come to expect at least one or two twenties a week, though they are always a joyous surprise to find!) Sometimes they hold it up high in the air where I can see; sometimes they keep it hidden under their purse until the moment I pass; sometimes they wait til I’ve nearly passed to begin rifling through their pockets for spare change. I wait patiently, though sometimes they’re just looking for their iPod.
Which brings us to the second (and more common) class of people I encounter on the train. Indifferent people avoid eye contact, keep their earbuds in, and only raise the volume if they change it at all. They don’t discourage me. I’m just not there for them.
Some folks have nothing to spare, but they’ll give me kind words and encouragement. I am definitely there for them! Anyone who gives anything (other than bad attitude) receives a hearty “thank you!” even mid-harmonica-solo!
I move to the next car and strike up another set of tunes.
To read the third (and last) part, CLICK HERE!