Thursday, October 3, 2013

If You Can't Give Buskers Money, Give Them a Hand

Of the many careers suffering in our new economy, one seems to have the worst prognosis: music. It's not just because digital music is more accessible and affordable than ever before. Or, that in the age of sampling and rap-pop songs, there seem to be fewer original hits and more forgettable one-hit wonders. But rather, it's that most people who perform live music don't attract admiration; they generate sympathy.

You're not supposed to give money to people on the subway, and for good reason. It only encourages those in need to ask for more and avoid the many non-profit and government organizations that provide far more food and better services with your money. But at the same time, the fact that most riders ignore these buskers reflects our changing values. A bunch of kids breakdancing and hanging upside down in the subway may not seem like art -- but it does require creativity and practice. Three guys in ponchos and sombreros singing "Guantanamera" may seem a bit dated -- but it's still a beautiful way for Mariachi singers to share their talent with the world. The truth is that those crowded platforms and dark subway tunnels where we crush candy on our phones, read paperbacks and kindles, and curse about train delays -- they may be the only places where live music and dance will survive.

You can't stop progress, and that includes the fast-moving world of mobile communications. But I do hope that no matter how many distractions the future throws our way, we'll always find time to look up and appreciate the enormous talent riding right in front of us.

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