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V.com weekend vote: Have you encountered a fake violin busker?

December 11, 2021, 4:30 PM · Lately there's a strange scam afoot: people faking that they are playing the violin, asking for money. Instead of actually playing, they are miming to a hidden soundtrack.

busker

It's been going on for several years, but it seems to be reaching a crescendo this holiday season, with news stories popping up all over the U.S. Last week, police in Maryland actually issued warnings to the public about the scam.

So what exactly is the scam? Beyond the obvious insult to real musicians and real buskers, some of the buskers ask for donations and use credit card skimmers to steal personal information. They also manipulate emotions with an exaggerated sob story, posting signs asking for money to deal with hard times: needing money to help their mother pay rent, for example, or to pay medical bills or to support a family.

The problem is, they are not musicians at all, they are completely faking the violin-playing.

The scam inspired a recent Violinist.com discussion about fake violin buskers, making me wonder, how widespread is this? News stories about it seem to come from all over the U.S. (here's another story, from Arizona) and beyond.

All of this, of course, is bad news for real buskers hoping to earn a little extra money during the holiday season. While the difference between a real player and a faker would probably be extremely obvious to readers of this site, apparently some people are more easily fooled.

With this scam gone public, people will be suspicious of "fake violin buskers," possibly casting a wary eye real players, who are actually busking.

So here are my questions for you this week: Have you encountered any of these scammers yourself? Has this been in the news, in your own community? What are your thoughts about this scam? Does it harm real musicians? Please participate in the vote and share your thoughts.

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Replies

December 11, 2021 at 11:20 PM · There are some clear signs to me that it's organized: the fake buskers in every video I've seen, as well as the one I encountered in person, all have signs with the exact same style of lettering, all use the same kind of electric violin and speaker, and all use the exact same loop of recorded songs. The uniformity is truly remarkable.

I encountered one of them on two occasions. The first time, I watched him from a restaurant patio for 45 minutes and noticed that he was bowing almost randomly and his left hand wasn't moving at all. He raked in a lot of money. With at least one person per minute stopping to give him money, there's a good chance he got more than $100 in the 45 minutes I watched him. It was clearly far more than I've ever seen any other busker pull in. I would attribute it to a combination of popular songs, the loudness of his speaker (may well have been illegal to play that loudly without a permit), the heavy foot traffic passing by, and his feigned poverty.

It made me especially angry because I'd seen a real violinist busking not very far away on several occasions, and I thought there was a good chance the faker was taking money that would have gone to the real violin busker.

The second time I encountered the faker was five days later. That time, I was stopping for lunch on the way home from an orchestra dress rehearsal, so I had my viola with me. I didn't go confront him directly, but instead, standing next to my car about 50 feet away. I took out my viola and started playing an improvised harmony line. Suddenly aware that he was being watched by an actual string player, he stopped "playing" and started hastily packing up within ten seconds after I started playing.

The next thing that happened was bizarre, to say the least. I guess he was trying to make an excuse for his sudden inability to play, because he started walking toward me, holding a violin bridge in the air, saying it was broken, and asking me to help him out by giving him the bridge off my "violin." This proved to me that he had no idea what he was doing, because if he was a real string player he should have known that I couldn't give him the bridge off my own instrument even if I wanted to.

December 12, 2021 at 12:26 AM · I saw my first fake busker just a couple weeks ago in the parking lot of the local Costco.

December 12, 2021 at 02:04 AM · Police in my Maryland county say that this is a nationwide scam: LINK

Problematically, there are a number of very good buskers who play locally. Performance majors from UMD sometimes busk, in addition to the street musicians who make a good chunk of their living this way. So the scammers are not only taking spots that "regulars" depend on for their livelihood, but they are probably often getting bigger tips thanks to the sob story. (And the fact that they use attention-getting volumes that the ordinance-compliant buskers will avoid.)

December 12, 2021 at 10:54 AM · Not completely fake, although some with loud accompaniment and a sound unrecognizable as being from a violin. My experience of busking is that after taking into account wear on instrument, music stand and so on I came out even, to make money it is best to be a singer preferably a teenage girl singing christmas carols. Seems like a good excuse to to tell some busking stories. Not sure which is my favourite. 1, a middle everything lady came up and started rummaging around in her bag eventual came up with a coin and threw it in, five minutes later she came back and did the same this time with an ah I have found it the lucky 20p and threw it in. 2, a small black boy with large pink headphones, ghetto blaster and stack of cds stationed himself a few yards from me, his pitch was to run after people with "do you like music" and try to sell them a cd, after sometime he tried it on me do you like music I didn't reply. 3, I was playing the bottom of the first page of the last movement of the mendelssohn when someone bigger than me started yelling at me about playing militaristic music, the music of fascists and so on, it was very intimidating but I thought that as I was in the middle of guildford in the middle of the day nothing was likely to happen so I said nothing, it was not until later that I discovered that mendelssohn was banned under the fascists, 4, some lady came up and said she worked in marketing and I was doing everything wrong, where are the advertizing hoarding the violins for other to join in so on and I am standing in the wrong place, this one gave me a head ache for ages.

December 12, 2021 at 04:48 PM · I was very surprised when I first saw a fake busker. Friends that I know who have tried their hand at busking said it was not worth the money. This was corroborated by Joshua Bell’s subway experiment and Twoset violin’s busking videos. However, maybe times have changed, and the tactics of the fakers work.

December 12, 2021 at 05:17 PM · It seems to me that there are nuances here: I saw an obvious faker who made a sort of comedy routine out of it: Listeners were in on the joke (or "joke"?). I remember another who had a puppet with him who "played" a tiny violin. The busker handled the strings of the puppet.

And of course there are the obvious cases who have a large (and IMHO expensive) music playing machine with them and a fiddle they obviously don't know how to handle. I am afraid the best we an do is ignore them. It seems to me though that none of this is a recent innovation. Variations of it have been around. It's a free country as they say.

BTW: Has anybody seen a female fake busker? I haven't.

December 12, 2021 at 07:01 PM · To ~ Laurie Niles, Editor {#7}

Thank You, Laurie, for doing a Story on Fraud Busker's issue & now, evidently, rapidly spreading across the United States & parts further. My own way to draw attention will be in posting this on my FB Pg Timeline shortly for any & All to read about ~ {^Link below}

A Word: my late Mentor, Jascha Heifetz, had respect for all the violinists working for their living, evidenced one day in the Thrice Weekly Jascha Heifetz Violin Master Classes at USC, & by we 7 original Heifetz pupil's on film on YouTube and other various websites. We had finished our over 2 Weeks Filming on the USC Campus which Mr. Heifetz, was pleased with and

although not in personal attendance, heard about our Beverly Hills Hotel Film Party hosted by our JH Violin Master Class films New York City Producer, Nathan Kroll, for all 7 of us with film crew members also at our very large table in the BHh Polo Lounge. A violinist working in the Polo Lounge, came 'round serenading many having dinner, playing as best he could. He came to our excessively large table asking if there were any requests? A few of my JH VMC class-mates did ask, yet we pretended not to even know what a Violin was, yet one of my class-mates did ask the gentleman {around 60ish} if it was okay to try holding his violin, to which he hesitated then finally agreed. My class-mate, after asking for instructions how to hold the violin & bow, then rattled off part of Paganini's 24th Caprice to the violinist's utter astonishment & shock!! He was flabbergasted, as all of the other 6 of us tried to contain our laughter & twas Naughty Laughter. Finally, after passing his violin around to 3 other of us {myself included} each feigning not at all knowing How to play a violin, yet upon the Beverly Hills violinist RX's, suddenly beginning to play known sections of favored violin concerti. Mr. Kroll. our Producer, intervened saying to this by then truly-in- shock-working for his living violinist, "dear Sir, these are the 7 pupils of the Great Violinist, Jascha Heifetz and ...' Interrupted by the then on his knees violinist in tears of gratitude amid Joy & astonishment, all there invited him to have dessert with all of us, hugging him & later signing his Autograph Book amid friendship tears ~

"All's Well that Ends Well", of The Bard, occurred but Not with our Mentor, Jascha Heifetz, whom on the next day of our 6 hrs daily Violin Master Class, gave us a Speech none could ever forget. JH tore in to us for our disrespect of a violinist earning his living taking care of his family playing his violin, and doing so honestly. Mr. Heifetz then ordered us "to never ever again make jokes or show disrespect to those violinists & musicians playing their instruments for a living." The End.

I share this here to illustrate the Greatest Violinist of All Time, Jascha Heifetz, who had humility amid a true sense of caring for others earning their keep playing in restaurant's and the like to Thank and never mock ~

These fraudulent so called "Busker's of Playing the Violin" will & should be serving Jail Time and sued by the International AFM Federation of Musicians for professional injury to a time honoured profession of Earnest Violinists who Do Play the Violin in public spaces with Their Best that They Can & Live

In Person actual Playing minus sound piped in tunes trying to imitate Real Violinists and hurting The Honest Violinists Now. It should be brought before Congress to inact a Bill of similar here Wording and defined as Being Against Federal and State Law. PERIOD!! I will reach out to our State Senator and/or a Congressional Representative forthwith ~

Thank You's to Laurie Niles for drawing serious attention to a sinful Crime against Accredited Violinists.

Honoured to Submit This ~

~ Elisabeth Matesky ~

{1 of 7 Original Jascha Heifetz Pupil's}

^ Link: https://www.facebook.com/elisabeth.anne.775?fref=nf

December 12, 2021

December 12, 2021 at 07:30 PM · Elisabeth, thank you for sharing a very fine story.

December 12, 2021 at 07:57 PM · @Richard Pairaudeau ~ {#9}

Dear Mr. Pairaudeau,

Thank You for your compliment re the VIP Lesson learned from my beloved late Violin Mentor, Jascha Heifetz, regarding respectful behaviour to any/all violinist colleagues earning their living earnestly playing the violin in public and in a restaurant or certified public space to support themselves & family.

Mr. Heifetz was truly upset with all seven of us and made 'bloody' sure in a Heifetz Reprimand to teach us humility toward all credited violinists playing their violins for a living ~

Wishing you and yours lovely & safe Holidays, I remain

~ Yours musically from America ~

..... Elisabeth Matesky .....

^ Keep in touch if a violinist or aficionado of JH & Milstein!!

Sunday, December 12, 2021

December 12, 2021 at 09:19 PM · Thank you for your kind wishes, and may you and family likewise have a happy holiday season. Best wishes for the new year! These strange times in which we find ourselves have probably made us all in this violin community fully aware of how powerful and sustaining our music is, and how lucky we are that, even in the most severe of lockdowns, we have the resource of 'conversation' through violinist.com

December 12, 2021 at 11:24 PM · @Richard Pairaudeau ~. {#11}

Back on to check spelling's, I see your new Reply and agree that no matter how severe the Government Lockdown's are, one can visit V.com and come on FB to musicians of repute &

discuss Music plus also listen to rare recordings posted on either my FB Timeline {Link below} or on the Jascha Heifetz Society also on FB. One needs but become a FB member to access a treasure trove of classical music and Music Lover's!

I have a feeling you are elsewhere than the US? Perhaps the UK! Anyway, the direct Link to my FB Timeline {page} is here: https://www.facebook.com/elisabeth.anne.775?fref=nf. (I use my full birth name on FB, but no middle name, professionally as a Concert Soloist/Artist Teacher)

You might open a New Chapter if you join FB for The Classical Music & Art, Conductors, et al!

Elisabeth Matesky / USA

~ December 12, 2021 ~

December 13, 2021 at 01:08 AM · I live in a small town with very few violin players, and I've never seen a violinist busker here. However, I recently saw a busker with an accordian outside of a large craft store, playing Hallelujah (not the Handel version). He had a loud soundtrack accompaniment, but I did think he was actually playing. I gave him some money, and maybe I'm gullible but I felt that his gratitude was genuine.

I loved reading about Master Heifitz's humilty and kindness. I can't determine why people publicly ask for money, but the phrase "there but for the grace of God" always pops into my head.

December 13, 2021 at 03:10 AM · For ~ @Celine K. ~ {#13}

I just checked for something & see your Reply re living in a small town and not seeing a violin busker but having seen, & heard plus helped an accordianist and whom appeared to be actually playing with a loud soundtrack accompaniment ... If you Heard his Sounds and Live, then you saw and heard him play altho' that loud accompaniment may well have been done

deliberately to turn up the loud volume to help camouflage his mistakes on the accordian!! Your own kindness is a gesture of caring & appreciation for what he did, so don't think of yourself as a gullible person ~ To the contrary, you are a Kind person who knows Who my mentor, Jascha Heifetz, Is & This Matters Greatly!!! Thank you, Celine K., for being Who You Are!!!

Kindness is never Lost!! I'm sure my mentor & later to become friend, Mr. Heifetz, would smile caringly on you from Heaven ~ The Thirty Fourth Year Anniversary of Jascha Heifetz's Earthly

Passing occurred on December 10th, 2021 ~ In touch with his family, I can say he is deeply missed and deeply revered plus missed by All Violinists 'Awake' & who Know of H E I F E T Z !!

May you & dear ones enjoy a Christmas & New Year of Love, Safety & Health ~

..... Yours musically .....

~ Elisabeth Matesky ~

To view my film w/Jascha Heifetz in Violin Master Class, go to

https://www.bili.bili.com (once there, type in following ~ )

Jascha Heifetz Violin Master Class-Khachaturian, JH-7,

Elisabeth Matesky {Rus vers. Library of Master Performers}

FB: https://www.facebook.com/elisabeth.anne.775?fref=nf

~ Sunday, December 12, 2021 ~

December 14, 2021 at 09:53 PM · There is at least a fourth category: That of people genuinely busking, and earnestly, but not well enough to be described as musicians - i've seen plenty of THESE over the years!

For quite a while I've seen people using a recording, but only as a backing for their playing. On Thursdays on the Tube I used to see a horn player playing very well. His genuineness was proved when he played a really bad wrong note!

December 16, 2021 at 01:43 AM · @John Rokos ~ {#15}

Just popped back on to see if my Share to FB worked and it does! I think I know where you might reside, and if correct do give my Love to London!!!!!

Short on time, please know I fully realise the immense ongoing hardships imposed on even the finest musicians yet made dreadfully more difficult due to this dire pandemic with its vast

restrictions imposed for safety in public health yet in flux due to more then less Scientific Data by various Health Institutions & with high profile physician's still not completely up on the latest Variant, etc., etc. ~

My heart lept to read you stopped to listen to a 'genuinely fine' horn player playing well and manifested his accomplishments with One Vile False Note!!! Bravo for Music and O for the fine 'author' of One Vile Note who btw, must be a refined musician who shuddered on making a false noise! I recall my late Iconic Violin Mentor, Jascha Heifetz, being praised beyond by now late George Bernard Shaw in 'the Times' of London, probably on the morn of Oct. 28th, 1917, writing of the 16 yr old youth, Jascha Heifetz, bidding adieu - writing: "and dear Mr Heifetz,

make sure before retiring for sleep each night, to play but One false note so as Not to disturb the God's!" ~ I rest my case that right now, even the greatest and as yet unknown superb horn

player who might walk in Dennis Brain's footsteps, is having a wicked time in the pandemic and when people stop to listen then write about him in V.com, Hope is still Alive!!

Thank You for your words to us all ...

~ Elisabeth Matesky ~

former inner Londoner

Ref: http://www.facebook.com/elisabeth.anne.775?fref=nf

... December 15, 2021 ....

December 16, 2021 at 02:39 AM · Sometimes I see a busker out with an accompanying track and I figure that's okay. In our area usually they are guitar players. Nowadays the "acoustic guitar amplifiers" usually are equipped with a second channel that is intended for playing comping tracks from your phone, some of them even have Bluetooth built-in for that purpose, such as those made by Fishman, which are popular among violinists too.

I also adored the story of the restaurant violinist. About ten years ago I was walking down the main drag in Denver and there was a violinist busking, so I stopped to listen for a bit. His playing was rather rough. We talked a bit and I said that I played too, so he handed me his violin to play something. But I was totally unable to play it because his tuning was A-E-A-E!! There was no way I could adapt to that on the fly, and his violin was in such rough shape that I didn't dare try to retune it. So we both chuckled a little and chatted a bit more about how he arrived at this tuning and went our separate ways.

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