Whistler's buskers sweeten the air on summer nights 

Musicians and more perform along Fitzsimmons walk for the third season

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Young talent Nine-year-old Sofie Hill is a seasoned busker in Whistler.
  • Photo Submitted
  • Young talent Nine-year-old Sofie Hill is a seasoned busker in Whistler.

Sofie Hill is a veteran of the Whistler Arts Council's (WAC) busking program. She has been playing the fiddle each summer since the program started three years ago and will again this summer.

She is also nine years old.

"It is a lot of fun. I had an adult guitar accompanist for the first year, and for a little bit the second year," Hill says. "And you get to make some money. I like it when people come back and I get collector coins, I've gotten some Australian and Chinese money."

The Squamish resident plays Celtic and old-time music, and belongs to the North Shore Celtic Ensemble and Sea to Sky Fiddlers.

"People are pretty generous," Hill says.

The money she earned last summer went into savings, but some was used to buy the half-size violin she needed after outgrowing her last instrument.

"She really enjoys performing and always has, she gets to play with and for other people as opposed to practicing at home," says her mother, Claudia Viviani. "It brings a whole different dimension. With Whistler you get people coming by from all over the world. And there were favourites; Sofie had the same people coming by all the time."

Hill pipes in: "There is this dog called Jasper who likes to dance with his owner. That was fun."

Viviani says her daughter has been busking since the age of five, the same age she took up the fiddle. In terms of busking, it has been an hour here and there to give her the experience of performing live.

Anna Solich organizes the buskers' program for the WAC. She explains that buskers differ from the free Street Entertainment Team program offered, and most buskers perform in areas outside Whistler Village, along Fitzsimmons Walk.

"We see the buskers when they come in to showcase their talent and if there is evident talent there, and they are family friendly, we give them a permit to perform," Solich says. "They can then go out every Sunday and Wednesday at designated hours and perform, because it coincides with the farmers' market."

She added that the WAC is currently seeking performers, with a continuous intake of talent over the summer. This year, along with permits for the whole season or half season, there is also a day permit option.

Last year there were 34 buskers, this year they hope to increase that number.

Solich said the impact of the buskers was measured in public surveys taken by WAC, with the response being positive overall. Visitors especially like the fact that it wasn't intrusive and it was a great way for young performers to put their talent to use.

Many of the buskers are, like Hill, returning artists. But Solich says there is room for new talent, and it's not limited to music. Other performers and artists are welcome to try out.

Another returning musician is Meg Pratt-Johnson, who plays solo classical violin. This will also be her third season busking in Whistler.

"It's very well received. Everyone likes hearing a little bit of music, tourists mainly, but my friends will come out if they've never seen me play or heard live music," she says.

Her favourites includes Minuet in G by Ludwig von Beethoven, Concerto No. 2 by Fritz Seitz, and Humoresque by Antonín Dvorák.

There are six buskers spots and each session lasts an hour, she explains, "but if no one else comes to play you can stay longer."

Originally from Salmon Arm, B.C., Pratt-Johnson works at Nicklaus North and Tommy Africa's as a server. She says busking is a good way to meet other artists and earn $100 in a few hours.

The executive director of WAC, Doti Niedermayer, says the municipality and Tourism Whistler resisted the idea of busking initially because it was felt enough money was being asked of visitors already, and they didn't want guests to feel pressured by buskers. The managed program has made everyone happy, she adds.

The full busking program runs from June 15 to Sept. 7. Those wanting to learn more can email asolich@artswhistler.com.

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