Central Park Violinist Shares Her Journey In Public Music
I'm always on the lookout for public art and found some recently in an unexpected place. I was on a walk and began to hear something that just made me want to walk towards it. It was music; unusual music being made by a man under a park's bridge. He was playing a Vietnamese instrument called a dan bau. I dropped a few dollars in a bowl and walked on.
Before long I began to hear the catchy, alluring sounds of steel drums. I listened for a few minutes, then
dropped a few dollars in his case and walked on. A little further I started hearing yet another sound that called to me.
It was a violinist. A few people were gathered, and my wife and I took a seat to listen to this woman play violin.
Her last name is Susan Keser, and compared to you and me she makes her living in an odd way.
“I’m a busker, what you call a busker,” she said.
A busker plays music in public places, but the short title didn’t seem to do her justice. She was making beautiful music, and in a wonderful setting: New York City’s Central Park. That’s not the only thing she does.
“I also play private events, gigs. I’m a former orchestral musician,” she said.
She played at a prime place in the park, at the downtown side of the wonderful wide walkway called The Mall, right next to the William Shakespeare statue.
“Yeah, that’s my spot. Yeah, that’s my territory," she said. "I have to get there very early in the morning because it’s very competitive. I’ve been there since 2008, every weekend -- weather permitting.”
When she and her husband moved to New York though, she wasn’t busking.
“I was grinding out 60 hours a week as a home health aid making minimum wage,” she said.
But her husband spotted lots of musicians in the park and they seemed to be making more than minimum wage.
“So I thought, ‘Okay; I’ll try it out.’ so I dusted off my violin, started practicing,” she said.
She made her debut, did quite well, and said goodbye to being a home health aid.
“And then from there I went into the subway system," she said. "And in New York you have to audition to play in the subway. It’s called Music Under New York.”
“I’m sure there are days when it’s really trying and difficult," I said, "but are there days when you think ‘Wow—I’m really lucky to be doing this!’?
“Yes. Oh yes!" she exclaimed. "When I have a good audience, and that’s all that matters to
me, it seems like, you know, I could play forever. I just love that. And it doesn’t happen very often. But when it does, I’m really happy.”
“So what’s been your most unusual reaction?” I asked. She thought about it.
“Apparently a lot of people are very emotionally touched. I’ve had so many people come up to me and they’re crying," she explained. "I guess because I’ve played these pieces so many times I forget that they have a real power if someone is receptive to it.”
“I look at what you do to some extent as public art. Do you see it that way?” I asked.
“Yes! I feel strongly and I always say this: that classical music should be performed in public places like Central Park," she said. "Yes, public art is very important and it’s dying. Classical music is going to die if we don’t promote it in public.”
“Well, I think you’re doing your part,” I said.
“Yes, I hope so," she said. "My parents would be very proud. They were both music educators.”
I suspect they would be.
The moment we came across Ms. Keser:
The man under the bridge:
Young man playing steel drum: