I would like to take a moment to talk about street musicians. Here in Florence there are quite a few street musicians. I have only seen a few in Minnesota. like the man playing saxaphone in front of the habidashery(yes, it is called that) near the St Paul Hotel. They are hardy souls and are usually only seen in the summer for obvious reasons. Here they are less affected by the weather because, well, it doesn’t snow. Cold is somewhere in the thirties (F) and rainy. You would think it would be impossible to play the violin or accordian in that kind of cold, but they are out there wooing a few Euros out of the few remaining tourists.
It’s surprising where they are, it seems now every time I turn a corner there is someone playing an instrument. No corner is too out of the way, no spot too small, no place too busy to discourage these musicians from playing to an audience. For instance, there’s an older gentleman with a violin who has staked out a corner spot next to the Duomo. The space is acoustically perfect for him. He doesn’t have to play loudly to be heard as the sound bounces off the Duomo and the buildings of the side street behind him creating a sort of surround sound. He plays very dramatic and romantic music and has the most beautiful brown eyes which he uses to draw people closer to him (and his violin case where, if you choose, you can drop a few coins.)
There’s a three piece band that sometimes plays in the Piazza Santa Croce, which is a huge open area offering little help from surrounding buildings for sound but lots and lots of foot traffic. They can play in this large space because they bring their own sound system with them. All they need is a plug in and a spot where the wind won’t tip the stands over.
There’s a duo of accordian and harmonica that plays in a tunnel under a major intersection that is on my way to the market. You can hear them as soon as you enter the tunnel system, even though they are nowhere near an entrance because the accordian player has only one dynamic level…loud, and with great feeling. Between the music and the vibrant graffiti it is quite an entertaining walk. They never have to worry about rain, they always have a big sound and everyone passes by on their way to the market.
Not everyone who owns a musical instrument in this town plays well. Like musicians the world over, some approach their instrument with great enthusiasm but little actual talent. What they lack in musicianship they make up for in sheer guts, determination and smiles. Remember, this is how they support themselves so it must be working for them. Others are musicians who love to play because it satisfies that part of their soul that needs to express itself musically. They are fortunate to live in a place that they can play nearly year round and make a living; playing basically for themselves and allowing those passing by to eavesdrop on what can sometimes feel like a very personal moment.
Street performers aren’t the only musicians in Florence. Florence is a town that loves its’ arts, and music is high on the list. People come from all over the world to study with teachers here or to participate in a particular school. It is not unusual to see someone riding a bike down the street with a guitar, trombone case or cello on their back. As the weather becomes warmer and windows are opened it is common to hear rehearsals in progress. Voice, piano, solo instruments and ensembles are heard through windows on nearly every street.
I am excited to hear what Florence sounds like over the next year. Concerts, festivals and street musicians will certainly be part of the experience, but so will churches and hopefully even an opera. Who knows what this summer will bring?