Not often do I get requests when I busk the streets.
Apart from standards such as “Irish Eyes,” “Danny Boy” and “the jig that Custer used,” I can count 35 years’ worth on the flying fingers of my hands.
So I’m surprised in Lexington when a man with visible dollar bills in hand asks for the largo from Anton Dvorak’s “New World Symphony.”
Heard me play it last week — and by coincidence had it assigned this week as a practice tune for his violin.
By no coincidence other than that of the family that plays together stays together, his wife and son, about 12, seated on the bench before me are also learning the instrument and, therefore, the tune.
I pin the sheet to the stand, not so much apologizing for having to read it as admitting that the tempo is too deliberate for me to trust to memory. And:
“Should warn you that the last note will launch into a jig called ‘Mrs. Cole,’ composed by Turlough O’Carolan, one of those wandering Celtic bards who named songs for anyone who’d feed them a few days.”
Luckily, my banter and their laughter cause a few other folks to stop and satisfy curiosity.
This does not surprise me. This I am versed in, and so I look to the others when I re-title the piece: “New World Symphony & Old World Compensation.”
Ordinarily I play Dvorak’s largo on my high-pitched sopranino recorder, but with a gathering so close, I opt for the tenor — made all the more resonant by the cool day’s crisp acoustics.
Always recall that an American who met the Czech composer during his 1893 trip down the Mississippi put lyrics to the largo, transforming it into a spiritual titled “Going Home.” That thought conveys the piece as much as all 10 fingers and all my breath.