Saturday, April 30, 2011

I Hear The Train A Comin': An Essay On The Grand Trunk Troubadours

Pictured are The Grand Trunk Troubadours! So named because the original troubadours of the band met while taking vocal lessons at the University of Regina Conservatory of Music, situated on College Avenue, formally known as 16th Avenue, the historical address of the Grand Trunk Railway station.

The members, from left to right, are: Bill, an addictions counselor, plays guitar and sings; Chris, a school counselor, sings plays pots and pans (our pet phrase for auxiliary percussion); Eric, a political campaigner, sings and plays the fiddle; Judy, a high school teacher, sings and plays pots and pans; Neil (self), a high school guidance counselor, plays 12 string and banjitar, and sings a bit; Baron, a landscaper, plays drums; Lillie, a provincial manager, sings and plays warm-up piano.

*Steve, not in picture, a wholesaler, plays guitar.

*Chris and Judy and Lillie, all can play keyboard. Chris can also play guitar, and Judy can also play the saxophone.

The Grand Trunk Troubadours (affectionately known as the GTT) is strictly a community service band, in the sense that it plays mostly at retirement residences, shut-in facilities, and hospitals. Officially the GTT plays pro bono, though honorariums are commonplace. One summer we played an afternoon concert for the members of a northern community who had to evacuate their homes because of the forest fires. This summer we are scheduled to perform for the members of a beach community who are still sand bagging in an attempt to save their homes from flood damage.

The GTT practices every Thursday evening through just one month, September, arranging its play list, and then gigs every Thursday evening from October through to June. GTT performances usually last an hour, are scheduled in evenings from 7 o'clock until 8 o'clock. To date as I write, I see the Grand Trunk Troubadours are booked until January of next year.

As the band typically breaks this time of year, two other groups, Friday Harbor and Seahorse, are its direct summer spin-offs. Friday Harbor plays coffee houses, Seahorse does the summer busk scene.

Here are some GTT Psychological Candies to crunch on:

  • Because of our heavy gig schedule, by late spring the GTT members get raddled. If we did not disband each summer, I doubt we'd regroup come September.

  • As a band we've no particular political adhesions. We sometimes discuss politics – we never discuss religion.

  • Our dress code is a bit campy. We always wear either black or white tops, and blue jeans are mandatory.

  • One would think that having eight members in a band would complify things. It does not; in fact, having so many members makes things simpler, in that it is not so important that everyone show up on any particular gig night.

  • Generally, the band members are congruous in their musical thinking. Specifically we do have a couple of counter patterns, our country gal (Chris) and our country guy (Bill).

  • So far in our band history, it seems 60's and 70's folk songs are never demode. Everybody loves strummers and hummers.

  • When we play in retirement communities the GTT is really just a shallow dish of eye candy. We are a musical sweet to be savored, certainly not meant as a replacement for the seniors' regular menu of exercise, reading, and socializing.

  • We, in the GTT, have been nascent since our inception. Eight years ago we were novice guitarists and wannabe singers; we are now contracted to play for a television audience.

As much as I love to busk, I love being in the band of Grand Trunk Troubadours!

I hear the train a comin'... and I hope to play and sing 'til that last train comes in!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

We Are All Of Us Galapagos: An Essay On Evolutionary Psychology In Buskingdom

1831. Charles Darwin sails to the Galapagos Islands on the H.M.S. Beagle. He wonders how so many different plants and animals arrived there in the first place, and how they are so perfectly adapted for their environments.

1859. Charles Darwin's book, On the Origin of Species, is released to the public. The book describes the principle of Natural Selection, the skinny of which is the strongest survive and therefore increase the strength of the species.

Darwin concluded that once on the island, the varied species established themselves and determined their territories. I've decided that this, too, is true within the citizenry of Buskingdom.

Within any territory worth busking, there is a macedoine of people, a Chaucerian parade of characters both fixed and in transit, preferrably demarcated within a downtown environment. Some of these characters will be sellers, some will be shoppers. Some of these characters will be tourists, some will be service providers. Some of these characters will be beggars, and some even, will be buskers.

Day to day within any prescribed buskingdom, the people patterns are predictably similar to any day previous and to any day hence. Most of the merchants will be stationary. The shoppers and tourists will be transitory. They will arrive and depart. The beggars will search for places to bask in the sunshine, yet keep themselves among the crowds. And we buskers, will move according to where we think the most coins will be tossed.

And just how do all these people survive within this mercantile environment? To this question I believe the answers are simple and multiple. Amicable merchants who sell quality products at a reasonable prices; their businesses will thrive. Shoppers that are lucid and mobile will continue to shop (until they drop) in the malls, niche and novelty shops. Begrime free beggars and cadges who have the stamina to stay downtown, will continue to pester and plug along.

We buskers, however, need to employ other skill sets, in ways that are atypical from the previously mentioned populace.

Buskers need to observe. Specifically, we need to study the faces in the crowd and generally, we need to observe the whereabouts of the crowd. (Not much need to play here when everyone is gathered over there.)

Buskers need to believe. We must be felicitous and muster the confidence in our own personalities and talents to keep entertaining to certain persons in particular, and yet to everyone in general. We must do this throughout the entire durations of any busk.

Buskers need to react. If no one is listening to any of our songs, we must change our playlist. If no one is tossing coins our way, we must move up the street.

Finally, buskers need to enjoy. We must stay positive and keep smiling. And sometimes we have to remind ourselves that work does not get any better than this!

We must be continuously observing, believing, reacting, and enjoying. Intertwining these behaviors, will provide opportunities to create our own kismet for many a copacetic and glorious day in Buskingdom.

In so doing we will stay strong. We will survive ...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

So You Want To Be A Busker: An Essay On De Novo To Go Go

Busking is cool. Just google any video of Mic Christopher & Glen Hansard. Busking is really, really cool. Now google Darth Fiddler. Whether dressed as your character-self or costumed as another, you, too, can be as cool. So if you want to be a busker, be one now.

Perhaps your life has not gone the way you had desired, did not proceed exactly as you had imagined. Ha! I know that for most/all of you this is ironic and sarcastic and understated. Crafting the perfect and authentic life is challenging, but as long as you are breathing and determined, you can always begin again.

Are you the predictable type? Pedantic? Pedestrian? I am guessing that you are. To date your life has likely been cookie-cutter fashioned into a ponderous hodgepodge of hoops and hurdles. You are probably in an intimate relationship and you have/want children. Your roof has a 25 year mortgage and you have two sets of wheels. You've a couple credit cards, one at least to the max. You've unwittingly exited the fast lane for the zoom lane. You want your loved ones to flourish, yet you want to be free. Staring down the road you are praying to your god/s to see daylight, because the skinny of your existence is, as stated in textbook Psychology, automaticity.

To cobble a new lifestyle and to begin again takes imagination, patience, and work. To be a busker demands that you disturb your present life cadence. Before I was a faux busker I was an apprentice lineman (the title at the time), a chain man (again, sexist, but the title at the time), an aquatics instructor, a teacher, a counsellor. Busking has been my de novo. Busking is my soul search for self-authenticity.

Seeking an authentic lifestyle has challenging for a number of reasons. One fundamental reason is that our Western main stream consists of government, commercial, educational, and religious institutions, all of which are static and quite resistant to change. Adjustments of church policies are difficult, but revamping any public school system is even more difficult. These are just a couple of examples.

Another reason is that our appetites for authentic personal quests are just too adventurous. All the predictable patterns that we are accustomed to have predictable outcomes. Quests, on the other hand, provide mostly questions without answers, having to conquer the shining moments as they perpetually arrive. A busking life is not one of parlous adventure, but it seems so from a public perspective.

When deciding to be a busker just remember where you stand (metaphorically). How much income do you need (both realistically and psychologically)? What matters to you most (your happiness, others' happiness)? To live is to suffer, but just how much do you want to suffer? Busking need not be an ancillary lifestyle, but again, it seems to appear so from a public perspective.

To be a busker you must have within you some answers to these questions. You will need to rely on that inner voice, that sixth sense, your common sense.

A busker life is Promethean enough that you'll need supports. You need not abdicate completely your present lifestyle to be a busker, and you most certainly cannot be cavalier. You will need your mates; you will need your loved ones; you'll need to be corporately connected.

Too soon shall I be old. My life, like yours, as been traumatic and treacherous, laughable and wonderful. I've been through enough milestones to recognize my mortality. Though I'm not yet having death anxieties, as I age I am procrastinating less. My life has been filled with grace. As people get older they tend to get more selfish, and so grows their egoism. As I age, busking does just the opposite for me. Buskingdom provides, literally, hundreds of opportunities to return some of that grace. For in that alterity --

the parade of Chaucerian characters I meet vis-a-vis is endless.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Planetary Guide To Paradise On The Concrete: Another Essay On Busker Happiness

I wonder what the poor people are doing.

My colleague, Ricky, has told me that as a boy, he and his brothers and parents routinely settled around a get-together campfire, roasting hotdogs and marshmallows, and inevitably his dad, in complete contentment whilst sipping a shot of whiskey, would herald the above statement to everyone (yet to no one in particular).

Reminiscing, Ricky related that his family was poor – not dirt poor, but most certainly a myriad of paychecks short of being in the well-to-do middle class. That crackling family campfire must have meant something very special to his dad during those gathering times. It could be that in those assembled moments, he was truly happy in the company of his loving wife and his loving children. It could be too, that congregating around the smoke and flames ignited within him a certain peacefulness, most likely something completely contrary to his daylight scrambling. Whatever was the prompt for that particular declaration, the richness and warmth of that evening outdoor fire was the perfect primal metaphor expressing the need and want for family within us all.

For we buskers, the I-wonder-what-the-poor-people-are-doing campfire statement sparks yet more Psychology Candies to crunch on for our sidewalk richness.

  • Keep moving. Don't let the changes in life throw you completely off track. Stay the course, plan your busks, and channel your energy in this same regard.
  • Believe in your performance. With each performance you gain experience to refurbish for the next.
  • Embrace your sidewalk adventures. Know that the world is not out to get you. It is not the world that punishes you – it is you that punishes yourself. Focusing on what you have and what you have to offer gives you a more positive perspective.
  • Recognize your street strengths. Direct these strengths toward your performances. Be good at what you do. Practice your weaknesses in private.
  • Don't get greedy. Desire can be both motivating and detrimental. Wanting too much can prove to be painful. As you seek your happiness, keep your integrity.
  • Stay thick-skinned. When it comes to public put-downs, be dispassionate. Be cognizant that some of your audience members have issues. Showing your ire will just add to their invectiveness and issues, perhaps even adding to yours.
  • Disappointment is part of life. Disappointments are the psychological counter patterns to a life filled with plaudits and joy. Rather than commiserate, process your disappointments, take some action, rise to the next level.
  • Kick your fears to the curb. Keep playing and focus only on your present performance.
Buskers, sidewalk richness is the key to our happiness. Introspection will always present to us that whenever we dare compare ourselves to certain others, we are indeed, rich.

I wonder what the poor people are doing...

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Place In The Sun: An Essay On Busker Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem
to seize, grasp, enjoy the day

In a game of poker we are dealt cards that are not of our choosing. Sometimes we get strong hands; sometimes we get weak hands. Whether the hands we are dealt are weak or strong we try and make do. Sometimes the wisest choice is to immediately fold. Sometimes it is wise to bluff.

And so, too, is it in life. We are not dealt events of our choosing. We did not choose our parents; we did not choose our birthplace; we did not choose our gender. Sometimes the wisest choice is to just concede. Sometimes it is best to play things out until the end.

This is where the comparison between poker and life stops. Our hands in poker are completely independent of one another. Not so in life. How we deal with each hand in life determines our strategy and stamina for each succeeding hand thereon.

The place of each of our lives should always be in the sunshine. Generally, we ought to be happy, or be striving to be happy. And when we are happy, those whom we affect, too, should have lots of opportunity to be happy. I am speaking of spouses and children and friends and workmates and familiar strangers and those less fortunate than we. I am speaking of arriving at that place of altruism, self-actualization, and self-efficacy.

How do we get there? The answer lies in how we evolve given just an average 80 years of breath on this planet (guys 78, ladies 82). We can, I believe, evolve from whatever initial hands we are dealt, into being an overall card game winner at any table. From wherever we originate we have the potential to self-direct into a personable, positive, and generous sentient being.

Here is how:

To change our lives we must start immediately, right now, with no exceptions.

Imagine the person you'd like to be. Give that person your face and your name, and then go from there. If this imagined person needs a new body type, get fit. If this imagined person needs a better job, get trained. If this imagined person needs a different spouse and kids, work on changing yourself.

Imagine doing things you like to do. If this action is laughing, get smiling. If this action is hiking, get walking. If this action is playing and singing, get practicing.

The size of the gap between the real you and the imagined you determines the happiness in your life. The narrower the gap, the more harmonious your life will be. Likewise, the wider the gap, the more dissonant your life will be.

Some Psychology Candies to crunch on:

  • To do anything of substance we must make the time rather than find the time. Doing things in haste gives way to just being brummagem.

  • Rather than angst, busking for faux buskers ought to be cathartic. Busking for others ought to be joyful.

  • Generally to the listener, busker music is but ear candy. Busking for a cause (any cause) will most certainly add depth to any song.

  • When on a busk, dance rather than galumph between busk stations.

  • And we ought to be dancing and busking until that day of our infirm.

  • As we get older we'll find we'll only regret the things we didn't do.

Whatever place you are at present can be improved. Different people have different senses of places that are important. For me, my place is to be busking in my recreational time. For many, many others, their place of most importance is just to have a safe and clean shelter, have bread and drink on the table, and to be treated with respect. And this is why I am choosing to busk for the Canadian Mental Health Association come Summer.

'Til and in the Winter of my life do I hope to find my place in the sun and enjoy my day …

even if it means busking in the snowbanks!