Happily Humbled in Lugano, Day 1

My Bwenty abandoned me after Val di Mello to go to Ravenna and Roma because he likes history and things. He also brought The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire with him to read. Wat. I went instead to Lugano, where I stayed with Damian, the most insufferably American person I have met while traveling. The days passed wonderfully and simply, much like my previous busking adventure. Sleeping in with writing and Internet in the morning, a small lunch, busking once in the afternoon and once in the evening, maybe drawing or walking about the city, a small dinner while watching the world cup, repeat.

My first day in Lugano gifted me with the most humbling and inspiring experience of my busking life. The most wonderful.  I felt so, so alive. I left Damian’s place very late, intending to busk a bit and then watch the world cup. As I wandered town in search of a likely spot, I heard strains of music that sounded suspiciously good to be live, but too improvised and casual to be recorded. I followed my ears past the gloriously clean bus station (I love Switzerland. Everything works!) and emerged at a large intersection by the mall to see a fabulously talented quartet of young Romanians.

So, so, so, so good. Terrible buskers (too entitled/not gracious enough, too casual, too insular with attention directed at each other rather than at the passersby) but still doing relatively well by the sheer quality of their musicianship. Brent says that his math professor has things stacked for him as a left handed immigrant Russian Jew. These buskers were similarly blessed as Romanian men trained at Italian and Swiss conservatories. Three violinists of varying (excellent) abilities and specialties and one accordionist of little note.

I sat on a bench nearby with my violin case on the pavement in front of me, happy to scrap my plans to busk and listen. They noted me immediately, and one, slender in a black V neck tshirt and jeans, long hair in an elegant queue, beckoned me to come play with or for them with his eyes and then hands and words. This continued for some time while they weaved effortlessly between classical and baroque pieces, swapping off melody lines, adding embellishments, playing harmony. When all four began to beckon me over, I felt a bit ashamed of my shyness and relented.

I felt terribly nervous and didn’t know what to do. I figured I’d just play countermelodies and improvise along with them, but I soon realized this wouldn’t work. Their musical proficiency far outstripped mine, so what they expected of me (which was trivial for them) was beyond me. They didn’t simply harmonize with each other, they played counterpoint lines and second violin parts and flashy runs that somehow locked perfectly in place. Really, it’s difficult for me to describe their breezy excellence. 

After a short while, they decided to take a break, flabbergasting me by placing their violins directly on the street while they smoked or stretched. They asked me to play them something, so I played them Horse Racing, the only thing I really felt comfortable showing them. They knew within three notes that it was about a caballo. When I finished they asked me what conservatory I studied at and were quite confused when I tried to Italian that I studied art, and no music at all in uni. Such a compliment and such a privilege to have experts listen to me and critique me. Made me realize I definitely need to find a teacher when I go to Taiwan. 

Eduard, the guy with the long queue, asked to borrow my violin to try. After playing one note, he asked if I had Vision strings. Which I did. We both hate them, but I’d had to change to them, my spare set, to reduce squeaking fom my old strings. He kept playing and playing, falling in love with the sound, commenting on the dark beauty of it, how perfect it is for slow brooding pieces but how awful it is for bright lively things like Mozart. They asked me how much I paid for it and for my new bow. They approved of both numbers, saying I got a great deal. Eduard wanted o buy it off me for a bit more than I paid. He was rather insistent throughout the afternoon, and while part of me knew my violin deserved to be played by someone who really knows what he’s doing with it, I selfishly kept it. We exchanged facebooks for in case I change my mind. So much affirmation this day. I played two of their violins, one being a Cremonese violin fato a mano for the main lead violinist.

This is already one of my longest posts. I learned so much in my hour and change with the Romanians. As the accordionist and one violinist took a break, they whizzed through the classical canon with me, Barber of Seville, Quattro Stagioni, Vivaldi Concerto in Am, the Bach double, Hungarian Dances, Meditation, etc. All pieces I’d played I the past but couldn’t quite remember. One coached me through the corresponding chords with solfege, but my solfege comprehension is very slow. They asked if I’m used to sheet music, then explained that they do everything by ear. A couple weeks prior I came to the realization that I can’t learn all the languages. This day I realized how weak my classical base is, and how badly I need to learn Mandarin.

Why the latter? At the end of the pitch, a group of Chinese approached and my new comrades hastened me to play the Caballo, or other typical Chinese songs. I did, and they stopped. I played through Horse Racing, and the young woman of the group asked if I was Chinese (in Chinese). after responding affirmatively, I played Er Quan, Butterfly Lovers, Mo Li Hua and she laughed, asking me if I thought I was an erhu.  We talked a bit while the Romanians packed their instruments, but quickly my Chinese began to show its limits, such that by the time she bid me farewell and invited me to come play with her and some Taiwanese students in a concert the following month, she was speaking in English. Turns out she’s a Lugano conservatory trained music teacher herself. 

Code switching between two languages I don’t know is hard.

During all this, the tips rained down. The most beautifully uplifting and humbling experience of my musical life, particularly necessary after Thailand. Here brilliant, hard working musicians who are leagues above my level are normal, humble, and easy to find, as opposed to non existent in Bangkok. I’m average and unremarkable in Switzerland, as I should be, with technique and talent to aspire to withinearl around me. I spent too long being the best in Thailand and thereby stagnated. I needed this.

Earnings: 0,00CHF, 0,00€, 1 hours

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