Spare a nickel?

Many people have asked me if I have ever busked as a toy pianist. My only real attempt at busking took place on Queens Street in Toronto over five years ago. At that time, I was performing a lot more solo toy piano pieces. I was also prepared to play some transcriptions of Scott Joplin rags, Bartok’s Makrokosmos and Stravinsky’s “Five Finger Pieces.”

I probably played for about two hours and made about $6. Though the toy piano is a strange instrument, it is kind of lost on the busy streets. First of all, it is so close to the ground, when people are walking by, they have to hunch over to see me. The only people I was eye-level with were children and people in wheel chairs. The people in wheel chairs all stopped to hear me play, but not a lot of pedestrians. The other thing is that the toy piano is not a very loud instrument. With all the noise on the streets, people couldn’t hear me until they were a few feet away. It wasn’t until then that I realized the toy piano is a very subtle instrument. There are many expressive elements, but they must be listened to with full attention.

I think this is why it’s uniqueness is magnified most in concert settings. The toy piano pokes fun at traditional concert rituals. This element is missing when busking. It was an interesting experience for me. I think I’ll try again though…maybe this time in the subway car.