Why I love the street musicians in Europe:
January, 1999: I’m 19 years old and in Paris for the first time. As I scuttle down into the Metro to escape the winter wind, I hear the strains of an accordionist playing Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose.” I am transfixed and my love affair with Paris and the street musicians in Europe begins.
May, 2001: After a great evening with friends, I slip out of a wine bar in Cannes and into the warm evening air. As I walk toward my hotel, I hear a lone sax player’s riffs filling the night’s silence.
October, 2008: My husband and I enter London’s Tube as the sounds produced by a classically trained violinist fill the station. As we turn the corner, we see a bundled up elderly gentleman playing his heart out.
October 13, 2009: I’m on the U2 line in Berlin with my sister. Two bearded men, one toting a guitar and the other an accordion, hop onto our car and start playing a Beatles medley (to which we sing along). As they leave, I lean over to Annie and say “We’re on the U2 line, do you think that’s what the band is named after? If a street musician gets on this car at the next stop and plays ‘Beautiful Day,’ I’ll give them 50 Euros.” The doors open and two more gentlemen with guitars get on. “Do you take requests?” Annie smirks.
As I reflect on my many European travels, these simple moments remain vivid in my memory. Street musicians are a part of everyday life in most major European cities. While I’ve heard my fair share of less than talented street performers, they seem to be the exception that proves the rule. From what I’ve discovered during my conversations with dozens of street musicians throughout the years, most are self-taught (or have learned their skills from family members) and some are classically trained musicians.
Many famous European musicians started out as street performers. Perhaps the most renowned (at least in France) is Edith Piaf. As the story goes, she was born on the streets of Paris to a 17-year-old mother who worked as a café singer and a father who was a street acrobat. After her mother abandoned her, she performed on the streets of Paris with her father for a while and eventually went to live with her paternal grandmother. She was a teenager working as a street performer in 1935 when Louis Leplée, the owner of a popular Paris nightclub called Le Gerny, discovered Piaf and gave her the opportunity to perform in his club (which marked the beginning of Piaf’s long and prosperous career as an international chanteuse).
To tell you the truth, I’ve often fantasized about working as a street musician in Europe. Too bad my accordion skills aren’t quite up to snuff….yet.
Written by Jen Westmoreland Bouchard for EuropeUpClose.com