Published: June 08, 2007

Busk stop

For a long time I’ve held the belief that busking is the most honourable form of work there is. If people like what you’re doing, they’ll pay you what they think it was worth to them. If they don’t like it, they can just keep walking.

I busked on Princes Street for the better part of two years. By day I’d essentially practice for three hours or so often at an unused British Home Stores’ door, usually tag-teaming with another piper. Scotland’s weather being so temperate, like golf, you can reasonably busk year-round. I’d often play golf in the morning, busk in the afternoon, and, when there wasn’t a band practice, wait tables at Mama’s in the Grassmarket at night. What a life.

You hear a lot of pipers busking in Toronto whenever the weather’s good, which it is now. During the summer weekdays, I often hear pipes all day long, since I work in a building right at the corner of Yonge and Bloor streets, one of the most well known intersections in Canada. One of the two or three regular piper-buskers will play on any given day.

They’re not great players, but they’re not bad either. Regardless, what they’re doing is making an honest buck. People pay them what they think their 20 seconds of entertainment was worth. And I think they do quite well.

Much better, I would guess, than what we would make on Princes Street. The money was okay there then, but there were a lot of old wifeys who would pass by sneering, with their fingers in their ears. We were pretty good players then, but many Scots seemed to hate the pipes. The tourists of course lapped it up, and I’m sure that I, an American, am in thousands of photo albums as some authentic Scottish piper.
After almost 20 years in Canada, I have never actually heard anyone say that they dislike, much less hate, the pipes. You hear Highland pipes everywhere in Canada, and without fail when I tell people that I play the pipes they say how they “love” the sound, and usually talk about how much it moved them when the piper played at their sister’s wedding or their grandfather’s funeral.

But back to busking: I think most former-waiters leave bigger tips. They understand the difficulty of that job. As a former-busker, I always give buskers who have entertained me, even if it’s just for a few seconds, some money. It’s the honest thing to do.

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