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JEAN SHEPHERD MUSIC’S CHARMS & (101) ARTSY Subway Violin Busker

Miss McCullough taught the strings in the orchestra.  And every Thursday at three-thirty was my time.  And for fifteen minutes I would stand before this music stand with a big, double, B-flat bass.  Big bass fiddle.  She would just say nothing.  She’d just take the exercise book that we used and she would open it to a page and say, “I want you to start at figure C.”

I would take up my bow, nervous, sweating, and I’d put rosin on it.  I always used to try to stall for time.  I’d put a lot of rosin on it.  I’d put my hand up to the pegs and listen dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-duuuunn.  I was pretending to tune it.  Dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-duuuunn.  Miss McCullough would look at her watch, meaning, let’s get on the stick!  She says nothing, she’s sitting there in her metal chair, just waiting.

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VIOLIN BUSKER

Going to work at the Museum by subway, I used to take a longer route than necessary so that I could have a comfortable seat and be able to easily read my book. From Forest Hills, Queens, I’d take the F Train to 6th Avenue and 34th Street, then climb stairs, go through a mezzanine, then downstairs to the Uptown B Local and get off at the Museum’s 81th Street stop. That was until I met a violin busker, James Graseck.

One morning, about to go upstairs, amid the noise, hustle, and bustle, I heard a classical violin despite the roaring trains, on the far side of the tracks—yes, in the subway. I went up, across the mezzanine, and down, finding the musician playing. I listened until he stopped, and put a dollar in his violin case.

Every morning I sought him out and went over to listen. I bought one of his CDs, I introduced myself and we would talk. Each day I put a dollar in his case. I told him that my mother used to be a classical violinist, a professional, playing in vaudeville in her youth, and that she had taught me to play.

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I became obsessed with his indomitable spirit to play against the roar of trains.

I wrote a poem about him and gave him a copy.

He seemed quite pleased with my unusual gratuity.

He may still have it in his case.

That was twenty years go.

He’s been interviewed and shown

performing on radio, TV, periodicals.

I believe he still performs

his audacious artsy.

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2 Comments

  1. Bettylou Steadman says:

    I love your posts and look forward to reading them.Bettylou Steadman

    • ebbergmann says:

      Thank you very much, BettyLou. I much enjoy thinking about such stuff and putting together my little essays about them. Of course, my enthusiasm for Shepherd and his radio work remains strong.

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