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Press Release: 24 August 2007
The new violin
Turnham Green to Zurich
Venice to Rome via Stockholm
Kampala, the Tender Talents Magnet school
Australia to Hong Kong
Taipei to China
Buenos Aires to Miami
USA, Canada and back home
Buenos Aires to Miami
Australia to Hong Kong
At Sydney airport I smuggle a bag of mixed fruit and nuts past the Customs sniffer dogs and am soon outside greeting Kate, a flatmate from my student days.
I’m staying with another friend, last seen 25 years ago, and over a cup of tea, the three of us discuss an Aussie busking plan.
I decide to sell myself on eBay – or rather a short private recital for the highest bidder. There’s very little time so we opt for a one-day auction and circulate details to local press contacts.
Most of the next morning is spent on the phone, in pursuit of the Holy Grail -permission to play in the foyer of the Sydney Opera House. Last time I visited Sydney, it was as guest concertmaster with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, so I start with a few of my old contacts. Getting to the right person is complicated but each call is a step in the right direction and, by lunchtime, I’m within one dial-tone of the clincher. A youth orchestra is playing there over the weekend and all I need is their agreement. I have a quick sandwich before calling.
‘That’s not appropriate at all.’
‘Even though it’s a charity in aid of music projects for children? Surely that’s of interest to you?’
‘No. That’s entirely inappropriate. We’re not interested, thank you.’
After that, I go to the Town Hall to pick up a busking licence. I’m dejected and paranoid that I’m about to be mired in bureaucracy, but seven minutes later, I emerge clutching a card saying ‘Approved to busk’.
Down at Circular Quay, the punters are hurrying past on their way to the Opera House. It’s freezing and it takes ages to get my fingers going. I make A$57 in about an hour and a half – a sort of musical sympathy vote.
The eBay auction hasn’t exactly excited the hoped-for media frenzy. In fact, lame is a good description. Just one bid and that’s from my sister-in-law. Undaunted, I decide to try it again for Melbourne the following week.
The boardwalk on Manley Beach is busker’s heaven. It’s a beautiful sunny day as I play to passing strollers and surfers. I miss the ferry back to Sydney by seconds so, not allowing time to sit heavy on my hands, I set up outside the terminal.
A woman comes up to me while I’m playing one of the fast numbers. ‘Nah. You won’t get any money like that! You’ve got to hold the notes longer.’ I start another piece with some occasional longer notes, but still predominately short, jerky ones. ‘That’s more like it. Nooo. Hold the note. Longer than that. That’s right. No, no nah. Yeah. Like that. Yeah. Longer, no, no. You need to hold them… My Dad played the violin.’
The Aussies are friendly, appreciative and generous, and by Monday, I’ve amassed enough to buy my ticket to Melbourne plus three long-haul flights. Free violin lessons aren’t the only examples of largesse. I’m invited to parties, given fruit and cookies, and several people put A$100 bills in my case. Thanks to Kate’s efforts, I get a couple of plum spots on ABC radio.
I sneak up to the Opera House for that all-important photo. We get the pic before being chased away by security. Supper is a meat pie and, as I look across to the Harbour Bridge, it dawns on me that I’ve made it halfway round the world. It feels great.
Melbourne is experiencing its coldest winter in a decade and, from the plane, I can see snow on the hills. Rick, a friend of a friend, is waiting at the airport. As well as sorting out schools visits and local busking permits, he’s lined me up with a local radio station, to plug the auction.
The interview does the trick and the next day I’m sold for A$475. Two other people get in touch asking me to give concerts for them, too.
Finding somewhere to stay is no problem. Within five minutes of meeting Mary Johnston, an ex-pat fiddler of a similar vintage to me, I have a roof over my head.
Despite the purchase of a woolly hat, it’s bitter playing outside. The eBay concert, the next night, is a welcome opportunity to play indoors and, halfway through, the radio station phones to check how it’s going. Happily, my buyers seem satisfied and ply me with sushi and wine afterwards. I will definitely be eBaying myself again. Next time, I may just add a little note in about ‘Caring for your purchase.’ Just to make sure.