Street music: the direct diplomacy

With the old 1row Hohner in the shopping mall of Kijkduin.
  • With the old 1row Hohner in the shopping mall of Kijkduin.

Why did I become street musician? I really don't know. I can't even remember my first time. I only remember I had to hustle. It's a fact you are doing something unusual: without being asked you start playing somewhere. From being an unconspicious passerby, you change into some who is there in a very emphatic way. The moral majority of the people will never do such a thing in their lives. So you'll be suspected of being quilty of deviant behaviour..

maart 1999
D I A T O N I C  QUARTERLY • Number 52 - year 16
door Eduard Bekker

But I've taken down this barrier quite quick: I have discovered many people listen with lots of pleasure and I seldom hear an improper word. The manager of the shopping mall where I often play has even said that he appreciates people playing street music. So, in despite of your 'deviation' you belong even a bit more to the 'family' than many others, because you have something to offer, whereas others are n't able to.


Personally I didn't like street musicians very much. In Utrecht, where I formerly lived, you could even stumble over them! Even when you were relaxing on a terrace for a minute, a man with a sax blew with his copperwork in your ear. And afterwards there was no escape, when he walked his round and held up his hand. Such things make me feel very uncomfortable. There are even musicians on the street who aren't really able to play or sing, so they cannot really entertain. Then you can speak of a form of begging and the music is abused for this. So when you're playing, you have something to do to make the public trust you. As you will say: "It's not for the money, but I glad to have the chance to make music for you!" So the first you must enjoy playing your music and you must be able to bring over this message to the public.

Being squeezer this isn't any problem for me, of course! I have only played squeezebox for a year, but that's no problem at all: the most people - especially kids - even prefer simple melodies and tunes. Which spot is the best one for street music? I have tried different places, but the best seems to be an indoor shopping mall at a better suburb of the city.
The public which comes here are cultured, and it's warm, dry and clean (!!) there. Not only for me this is good: also the people passing by are more likely to stop and listen. The accoustic circumstances are good. But don't get too near at the places were people are doing their work! The sound of my Hohner 2-row is almost as loud as a smaller street organ! And you can play as nicely as you want: these people cannot move from their places and because of this are forced to listen, they get annoyed much more quickly.

Older Ladies

Which public gives the most? Youngsters don't give a dime! And to impress attractive women (I speak from the view of a man) you play the wrong instrument, because the fallic symbology (saxofoon, guitar trumpet) fails. Older ladies and in less order older gentlemen listen and give with pleasure and make compliments more often. Sometimes they get even emotional! Because of that it will even be a plus when you can play the older numbers they enjoy, like Musi denn, Tiritomba, La Paloma and Falderie, faldera. At the opposite extreme are very young kids with their parents (in this sequence!). Children are very impressed and amused by the instrument. They normally start dancing spontaneously and the bellows is especially fascinating for them. Also the pully C-bass will amaze them: next to the Hohner it sounds like a ocean-steamer! Of course children's-songs are successful. Parents remember them from their youth and sometime they also start singing and dancing.

Very important also is that you can interactive with the people who are looking and listening (a smile can bring a wonder). Because of that, playing from written music is a very big disadvantage: you put a barrier between your audience and yourself. But as a matter of fact diatonic squeezers play from memory.
A nice advantage is also the silent diplomacy (hah, hah) you make for the 'harmonica with bellows'. For lots of people (especially in The Hague, where I live) it is their first acquaintance with this instrument en many of them want to know more about it. Even a lady asked me where she could get playing lessons.
Everyone who want to earn a bit extra money I'll advise not to be shy and not to fear the street. And this not only for making the diatonic accordion more known by the public. It also contributes something more cosy and warm in our sometimes so chilly society.

Click here to hear Eduard Bekker playing 'West-Zuid-West van Ameland'.

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