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ARTery: Busking in Boston

When you think about the sounds of the city, a Chopin nocturne probably doesn’t spring to mind. Edward Rosser is a full-time classical pianist and teacher, but you can often find him playing his upright piano on the streets of Harvard Square.

Rosser is the starting point of this week’s ARTery segment, when we talk to artists, performers and critics about what’s exciting them. Amelia Mason, a musician and writer in Cambridge, recently profiled some of the buskers she regularly encounters on WBUR’s arts blog, The ARTery. We explored the topic further with her — from the differences between stage and street performing, to the many challenges of the medium.


Amelia Mason, writer and musician based in Cambridge.


The ARTery, “You see them on your daily commute, your Sunday stroll in the park. They work in the subways, on the streets, and in the Public Garden. Maybe you stop to listen; maybe you drop some change in the bucket. Now that it’s summer, many have emerged from the tunnels to ply their trade in the sunshine.”


Other stories from this show:

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  • J__o__h__n

    I only have a problem with them when I’m on the T.  A captive audience isn’t a willing audience.  If someone is playing on the street, it is my choice to listen or not (except for the ubiquitous plastic bucket drummers who you can hear from quite a distance or the annoying fifer at Copley).  Others that I can’t stand: the guy playing the Chinese stringed instrument at Park St, the guy at South Station who in addition to playing badly assaults a second of my senses by displaying his awful paintings, actually almost all of the ones at South Station.

    • Edgar

       Hey, J_o_h_n thanks for letting us know when you have a problem. This is important to all of us. Some people think buskers add color and dimension to life in the city.

      • J__o__h__n

        Waiting for the subway is such a wonderful city experience that it doesn’t need any more color and dimension added to it. 

        • MusicguyMA

          J-o-h-n, you can move and wait for the subway at a distance from where the busker sets up, that is your choice, no?

  • Ian MacKinnon

    Big mistake in this piece.  The truth is that you DON’T need a permit to play in Boston.  My guess is that Amelia talked to people who play the Subway, Harvard Square, and Quincy Market, all of which are NOT the city of Boston known as the ‘cradle of liberty’.  The great untold story is that Boston continues to be a ‘no permit’ city despite a few early calls to have an unconstitutional permit system like Cambridge.  In my town, you need to pay $40 to read aloud and to recite: this is regardless of whether you’re asking for a donation.  This leaves speaking off the top of your head as your only free option in Cambridge.  And by the way, no performance is allowed at all in Central Square ‘until construction is finished’(whatever that 1996 ordinance means.)  I’m not even getting into the other performance activities the city lists.  The city voted back then, 9-0, to sell off public space, $40 a head.  The Cambridge ordinance has some good points, but its basic mentality is wrong:  political and religious speech are protected, of course, says the law.  The other stuff is classed as commerce and entertainment of no political or religious possibility:
    thus,  it can be taxed! 

Hosts Meghna Chakrabarti and Anthony Brooks introduce us to newsmakers, big thinkers and artists and bring us stories of relevance to Bostonians here and around the region. Live every weekday at 3.

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