My 81 miles on foot through Melbourne took me down curious side streets, through amazing markets, and to delicious restaurants over the course of the 4 days.
Through all the streets and eats, there was one particular experience that I keep fondly playing over in my head.
It was 3pm, day 4. My feet were exhausted and my legs ached with a pain dulled by a couple Iburofin. The day’s wandering led me to the National Gallery of Victoria; Australia’s largest and oldest art gallery. Free entry? Why not!
I walked in and was slapped with a sensory overload. Shoulder to shoulder bodies inching along in long lines to tune of children’s tears. I turned right back around.
Outside the building, the sound of wailing kids was replaced with a violin. I followed my ears down the sidewalk, plopped on the fountain ledge, and took in the scene. It was a man. He was older and foreign with deep smile lines and eyes that have surely seen things. There was a speaker to accompany his playing along with an open violin case for donations. If you wanted to bring his compositions home, CDs were conveniently for sale. I’m not too sure how I would even go about playing a CD these days, but I like the idea.
The music was exquisite. The performance was dispassionate. That is, until people stopped to acknowledge his existence.
As a performer, you’re always told to give it your all every single time. “You never know who is in the audience!” Performing the 4th show of the day, 5th day in a row, with a mostly empty audience is easier said than done, How many hours, days, weeks, years has this man been gifting the streets of Melbourne with his playing? Saving energy for an audience isn’t lazy, it’s survival.
After immersing myself in the musician, I started taking in my surroundings.
There were all sorts of people from all different places ranging from newborn to 90 passing by. Some were dressed to the nines. Others were in yoga pants and sweatshirts. There were working professionals in suits. Hipsters in overalls. Fashionistas making bold statements.
Some people stopped to listen. Wistful smiles, eyes closed. Taking a moment to enjoy the beautiful sounds. They soon passed on, throwing a few coins into his violin case. I remained.
Some people rushed passed. Straining their heads to stay forward, as if eye contact would sound the cha-ching of the register as money flew from their pockets into his case. Given the locale in between an art museum and the state theatre, I found it odd. How strange to ignore art while going to or coming from art? They passed, I remained.
Passing children almost always gave the violinist attention with dancing and giggles. I appreciated when parents passed their tots a couple dollars to give him. They moved on. I remained.
The spot was situated in front of a fountain, and the violin became the dramatic background music for countless photoshoots. There was one woman who struck me. She was Asian, early 30s, with pristine skin, flawless makeup, ruby red lips. Her outfit was fashion forward with a flowing skirt and big hat. Her handbag was small, studded, black, and expensive. A man with a hefty camera got to work as she posed to perfection. Model? Influencer? Artists? The shutter of the camera added a unique rhythm to the violin. Eventually they moved on. I remained.
There were young Uni students (AKA college kids) who were clearly BFAs. Trendy, hipster clothes with bold accessory choices, reeking of young artist angst. They always acknowledged the violinist, but to each other rather than to him. It brought me back to my BFA days of attending concert dance shows, seeing operas, going to art galleries, and listening to “good” music. I’m not sure if I genuinely liked what I was seeing or if I forced myself to like it because I labeled it as “art.” Ah, to be a young impressionable artist. They carried on. I remained.
Drama was thrown into the mix as a man hopped into the fountain. He had long hair, glazed eyes, baggy clothes, odd body twitches, and no awareness. Wishes made on tossed coins were his burried treasure. He cleverly picked up the coins with his toes to transfer them into his pocket. It reminded me of a sleepover game when I was young. My friends and I would see how quickly we could take off pen caps with our toes. Fellow spectators were quite perturbed by this man. To me it felt like I was back on the streets of NYC.
I glanced at my watch. 90 minutes had passed, and it was my turn to move on.