violinist at Grand Central

Susan Keser performing at Grand Central Terminal

You see creative types trying all sorts of ways to get attention in NYC–laying out armloads of prints on tables along Times Square, quartets of young men calling for everyone’s attention on a subway car and then performing an outrageous gymnastics feat, or the standard ‘by permission’ performances in subway stations with appropriate signage advertising the group.

Occasionally, I fish in my wallet for loose change or a buck, but that’s the exception.

Last week, though, I saw an act in Grand Central Terminal that got a wholly different response from me. I actually took $15 out of my wallet and gave it to the performer for one of her thumb drives.

Here’s what she did differently and right:

  1. Played amazingly well.
  2. Dressed the part–Impeccably groomed, wearing a simple black outfit calling attention to her music, not her apparel.
  3. Great signage. It said what she was performing at the moment and which CD or thumbdrive included that piece.
  4. She had a tip ‘jar’ for those who may not have wanted a lengthier version, but did want to show appreciation.
  5. She let the public know how else they might hire her should they want to book her for a live performance.

Now think of what it takes to do something like this. Lots of preparation. Courage – to stand there for hours while hundreds, if not thousands, of people walk right by you. Planning and strategy to have everything anyone could request, stored in a portable device that could be easily wheeled around NYC and offers easy access. Nothing spoils a sale more than fumbling around apologetically while searching for the requested item. This woman was smooth as silk.

I’m thrilled to share her talent and professionalism with you. Susan Keser – Concert violinist with 35+ years experience.

I had written to Susan to ask her about her performance. Her response was extremely informational and helpful to any potential buskers out there. Here it is:

  1. In order to perform at Grand Central Terminal, one must be a member of Music Under New York (MUNY). To get into MUNY you have to audition.  The lower level dining concourse is a special “spot”, because the performer is required to keep the volume very low and the hours are very restricted (8:00am-10:00am only).
  1. As for how successful my time there was on that day, October 30th: It was about average. As most performers will say, there are good days and bad days.  In this case, it is all about who happens to be walking by and whether or not they like what I’m doing or not.  In general, New Yorkers are much more receptive to my music than tourists. The tourists pretend like they don’t understand what’s going on and just walk away from me without showing their appreciation.  The only time they get actively involved is when they see New Yorkers supporting me.
  1. I would definitely recommend performing for the public this way (it’s also known as busking, I believe). I began doing this during my younger years in Europe and got hooked on it. It’s quite a different experience from sitting on a stage as an orchestral musician, which I also did for 25 years.  In order to perform like I do in public, one has to develop a very high level of concentration, the ability to block out distractions and go into the music completely.
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