Monday, February 20, 2012

Emily Palen - Violin

Emily Palen Photo: Kevin Hazelton
It took two tries to find her, but finally we did. My friend and photographer Kevin had seen her a few times on his way to work or to see friends and had been telling me about her, but when we stepped out the first time she wasn't there.

But now we're out on a Thursday and she's in her spot at Union Square in front of Neiman Marcus. You can't just play any instrument in front of a store like Neiman Marcus, it's fitting that Emily Palen's instrument is the violin.

There are three stereotypes of the violinist, the up-tight classicist, the 'fiddler', and the experimental player. While I would argue that every violin player has a little of all three in them, certainly Palen gravitates towards the last one, the experimentalist.

Photo: Kevin Hazelton
Street performers tend to perform a hodge podge of original music and 'covers' or canonical music that the passers by will recognize. Palen takes a third path by improvising the entire time. I've actually tried this on the saxophone when 'playing' for the Salvation Army one money tight Christmas and for me, it broke down pretty quickly. Granted it might be easier to maintain that long an unaccompanied improvisation with a polyphonic instrument, but it's still a feat.

Photo: Kevin Hazelton
She also relies heavily on something we began to noticing in other street performers. While sometimes it takes the form of frustration, the performers feed off the energy of the passers by. Palen specifically seems to rely on it to take her performance to wherever it goes.

One of the quirks of San Francisco, we're only a few blocks from where we picked up The Supa Lowery Brothers and BucketMan, but the crowd is entirely different. Union Square is a more upscale shopping area, the clothes are fancier, the average passer by seems a bit more affluent. This is the block up that the people a few stories up go to for their lunch. So instead of buckets, they get violin. It was an interesting divide in how street performers select their locations.

Like the other street performers, she had a lot to of interesting things to say, hopefully there's enough room to enjoy her music as well.

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