I was walking by the Joliet Public Library when I heard a familiar song from an unfamiliar instrument. I was, walking and texting when I heard the sounds of a violin playing Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer. I stopped, put my phone in my pocket, grabbed my camera and started snapping pictures of this woman playing with intensity.
For the first time, I was about to have a conversation with a street musician. Susan, I would learn, was a 4th generation musician who earned her Masters in music with the help of grants and fellowships. She had a distinguished career of more than 25 years that included work with some renown conductors. I've likely heard her play first chair in my younger years while enjoying wine and cheese in various outdoor pavilions in the area.
Now, she struggles to self promote playing minor league baseball games and attempting to get students and ever elusive contracts. Then, of course, she is playing in the streets for tips.
"What happened?" I asked.
"The world changed. Artists became less important than bankers. It could be worse. Some of my fellows and peers are in homeless shelters or dead. "
She gets offers to play for free being told it is good exposure. At least on the streets, she had told me, I control my exposure and make a few dollars. I asked her how many a few were and she shrugged a little and started to play "The Lark Ascending". The woman who now has found a niche for tips with pop covers on violin was playing Vaughan Williams. It was flawless and serene. There was nothing to do but stand there for 15 minutes while she played from memory. When she was done, I could see a single tear stain on her cheek.
I had $37 in my pocket. I only needed $7 for a sandwich as I started to place $30 in her tip receptacle. I then decided I did not need to eat supper that day. I had just been fed.