For the Love of Music: Busking in New York City

(For another look at street performers in New York, see “From Classical to Modern,” by Timmy Leung.)

By Simona Taver

Most days, Natalia Paruz plays music on a giant saw.

An award-winning musician, Paruz has played with orchestras around the world, on television and on the radio. Yet some of the shows she revels in most are her performances a couple of days each week, in New York City’s subways.

Paruz is a busker – an artist who performs in public spaces. And when she comes home, she writes all about it.

“There were things that happened while I was busking that I thought were really cool, and I didn’t want to forget them,” Paruz says of her blog,, which initially was a small extension of her Web site. “And then, I started getting e-mails from people, from other,” she says, “so eventually I turned it into like a blog.”

Natalia Paruz
Natalia Paruz, a.k.a. “Saw Lady,” busking in the Union Square subway station.

Paruz, also known as the “Saw Lady,” is one of the most outspoken members of the busking community. She publicly champions and defends the practice, and her advice is featured in online guides to busking. In addition to detailing Paruz’s experiences as a busker, provides a glimpse into the inner world of New York City street performers.

The blog also lets Paruz communicate with her audience. “A lot of people leave me comments – people who have seen me in the subway,” she says. “Or people ask me questions– like, people want to start busking.”

But there is another reason why Paruz keeps a blog. “I feel like I am somewhat of an advocate of busking,” she says. “You know, all these people have these misconceptions about busking. I want people to know the truth, and so this is my little way of contributing to this.”

Buskers have sometimes been misunderstood. “People tend to think that we are homeless, or that we can’t get a job, or we can’t get performance gigs anywhere else, and that’s why we play in the subway, and this is so far from the truth,” says Paruz.

Buskers come from a variety of different backgrounds, from classically trained musicians to high school students.

“At the beginning of the year, everybody wants to be a busker, but they don’t know how to make money,” says Brian Vinson, a jazz bassist who busks with the Handsome Jazz Ensemble, an oft-changing lineup of friends who play in a few locations in Central Park. “So after they come out a few times, for eight bucks or whatever, they tend to get discouraged early on and.”

Vinson– who has an education in classical bass and has toured as a jazz musician and with rock band Days of the New – plays alongside musicians from all over the world, many of them still in graduate school.

Another misunderstanding, Paruz says, is that buskers perform in public spaces because they can’t get “legitimate” gigs as musicians.

“People are so wrong it’s ridiculous,” says Paruz. “I know many, many buskers, and none of them are homeless, and all of them play gigs in respectful concert halls and clubs and whatever.”

Susan Keser
Violinist Susan Keser, busking in Grand Central Station.

For Susan Keser, a violinist who busks part-time in Central Park and Grand Central Station, street performance provides a thrill not often found in concert halls. Keser, who has a degree in music and has played in orchestras in Italy and Germany, says the experiences she gets from busking are unique.

“Almost every day, something new happens, an experience I haven’t had before,” says Keser. “Because New York is so rich–there’s so many types of people. And it seems like classical music, in the subway, attracts very bizarre and interesting reactions from people and I just thrive on that, because I’m always learning new things about human nature.”