Buskitechture in Helsinki, Day 10

So today (6.21.10) was a day of breaking things. My dinky camera decided it had better things to do than work – I was planning on taking some shots of my pitches around the town this afternoon, but a no go. After this failure, I progressed on to a quest of changing my many coins into bills. I’d been able to once at the railway station, but they refused the second time I went and all the banks only allowed such transactions if you had an account with them (which, of course, I don’t have – should I get one? should I get a phone? should I get a computer? hmm). Today went similarly. Rail station fail. Bank fail. R Kioski (convenience store) took my 1 and 2 euro coins. Gambling place only accepted coins given by the machines, even though they were the same, really. Finally I was able to change the coins at a currency exchange place for a charge of 60 cents.

There was quite an upshot of this, however. I ended up at Kamppi to change the money and when I exited (a different way than I entered as I try to do as often as possible) I passed an excellent young female busker. I gave her my remaining coins and had a brief chat – she’s from Helsinki, sings many of her own songs, etc. I had another go with my camera downtown but as it failed again, I returned to her pitch, thinking I might have a go at it when she finished. Instead, I sat down nearby and listened to her sing for… maybe half an hour? She has a pretty voice, but one which didn’t carry well, but the place she chose was perfect for it. She also boasted a harmonica which she wore Priscilla Ahn style. Her guitar was a glossy black and she strummed at it rather skillfully with pick – with a preference for I IV V progressions with the occasional III thrown in for good measure. Another young man sat on the steps of a small shop opposite her and together we clapped after each song – a trio of young men joined us fifteen minutes or so later.

She did passably well. I particularly enjoyed her cover of Coldplay’s Fix You, it made me think of Maria and Dan. I noticed that all but one of her tippers were male. Many stopped to chat her up (I suppose like I’d done?). After half hour or so, she announced that it was time to take a break. She had this funny tactic where she squirreled the 2 and 1 euro coins away (2 of each, perhaps?). I took this to be a full break and so I told her I could swap off with her. We proceeded to have an awkward interaction where she explained that she just wanted one cigarette. She’d said earlier she wanted to hear me play, so I had her choose between Hey Ya, Sound of Silence and Hallelujah. She chose Sound of Silence, but by the third verse I could tell she was uncomfortable. So I packed up and bid her farewell and good luck.

I’d been meaning to have a go at the Kaisaniemi busking spot I’d heard so much about, so I headed there on the Metro (which has these wonderfully acceleration and deceleration sounds). At the far end of the station there’s an exit to the street, glowing rather from the comparative darkness of the tunnel. This end of the station was sculpted from plaster like a cave – walls painted white with neanderthal-esque drawings in faded yellow and red. The illumination was an ubiquitous hellish flourescence. (When I sang the chorus of I Will Follow You Into the Dark, I nearly cracked up with the relevance and had to take an extra strummed chorus to recover).

In brief, it’s a brilliant, brilliant pitch. The acoustics are phenomenal. As soon as I began singing the entire tunnel filled with it – so it was wonderful practice as I had instant feedback on my intonation, etc. The natural reverb made it so I didn’t have to belt, which my voice probably was rather thankful for. I was able to sing my softer songs and those of lower pitch (when I get below a D3 I’m practically inaudible on the streets) and I felt relaxed enough to sing slowly there.

I started with Sufjan Stevens’ To Be Alone With You as a prayer. Everything about the tunnel pitch was magical. Only one negative interaction – a group of kids who flung a beercap at me – versus every other passerby, who gave me a thumbs up, or smiled, or tipped me. The flow of traffic progressed sedately in ones and twos, sometimes I had the whole tunnel to myself. I took the African man’s advice to heart again and really threw myself into my songs. The acoustics made my best songs, and my falsetto shine. When I sang Falling Slowly everyone who passed me tipped me at least a little, often doubling back when I hit the falsetto in the chorus.

One woman started crying when I began to play Let it Be, another girl mouthed along dreamily to Hallelujah. I had a brief dry spell when I sang more recent things like Yellow and Say, but as soon as I returned to the more recognizable ones I got tips and positive looks. One young man smiled broadly, saying “Good song,” as I played Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Another one requested Paranoid – but I couldn’t oblige. When I sang I’m Yours a pair of girls danced happily in do-si-dos all the way down the tunnel. And one old lady, talking on her cellphone loudly in Finnish, paused beside me and gave me a large bill for Here Comes the Sun. A few musicians passed and I nodded at them – one quartet who I’d seen near Esplanadi appreciated the Boxer.

It was an otherworldly pitch, marred only by the fact that I had no scenery to peruse except the wall a meter and a half before me. I couldn’t stop smiling the whole time and happily, that was infectious, even for those passersby with the dourest expressions.

Earnings: €41 + 1 SEK, 1.5 hours
Song of the Day: Falling Slowly – Soundtrack of Once

3 thoughts on “Buskitechture in Helsinki, Day 10

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