Violinist Hits the Streets on a Mission of Music

Violinist Hits the Streets on a Mission of Music

By VIVIEN SCHWEITZER
Published: October 19, 2007

Walking briskly past Lincoln Center with a violin case in hand and a suitcase in tow, David Juritz looked like a busy orchestral musician arriving in the city for professional engagements. But Mr. Juritz, concertmaster of the London Mozart Players and guest leader of the London Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras, won’t be wearing concert tails on this visit.

Since leaving London on June 9, Mr. Juritz, 50, has performed not in gilded concert halls but on gritty streets in cities throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, South America and the United States. He is touring as a busker to raise money for Musequality, the charity he founded to bring music education to poor children. New York is his final stop.

On Wednesday at the Columbus Circle entrance to Central Park, Mr. Juritz followed his well-honed routine, setting up shop in front of the large Musequality poster he has carried around the world. He then began performing excerpts from Bach’s partitas and sonatas, which he has played almost exclusively on his “Round the World and Bach” journey.

“The rule was that I had to earn every penny that I would use,” said Mr. Juritz, who left London with an empty wallet. His proceeds have financed transportation and dingy hostels, though he has also enjoyed offers of impromptu hospitality throughout his trip.

After expenses, he has raised about $50,000 for Musequality, about $13,000 of it from busking. The rest was generated by often hastily arranged private concerts and other donations. He hopes to raise another $500,000 over the next 18 months through more conventional methods, like corporate sponsorships.

While there are foundations that support existing music programs, Mr. Juritz said no other charities were dedicated to starting music education projects in poor areas. “The difficult thing is getting these programs off the ground,” he said. “After that they become relatively inexpensive to maintain.”

Musequality’s pilot project at the Tender Talents Magnet School in Kampala, Uganda, which cares for AIDS orphans, will offer its first music lessons next week, including piano, guitar, recorder and choral training. Mr. Juritz, who was born in South Africa, has been inspired by El Sistema, the Venezuelan program that provides disadvantaged children with instruments and instruction and has produced a number of fine musicians, among them the conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

At Columbus Circle Mr. Juritz attracted the attention of Jordan Kinzler, 28, who gives guided tours in Central Park and had heard Mr. Juritz interviewed on BBC Radio in June. “Nice to see he made it through the hard countries and is looking healthy and clean,” he said.

While the trip has often been “fantastic fun,” each day “is a complete scramble,” admitted Mr. Juritz, who says he has dodged unsympathetic security guards in Berlin and suspicious policemen in Asia.

“Busking is really time-consuming and it feels chaotic,” he said, adding, “You have days where you feel shattered.” During a brief stop in London at the end of June, after the European leg of his tour, he said, the prospect of going back out on the road for almost four months seemed “pretty grim.”

But Mr. Juritz said his wife, Jane Davies, a graphic designer, encouraged him not to give up and has been supportive since he told her in September 2006: “Look, Darling, I’ve had this really good idea. I’m going to busk my way round the world.”

Mr. Juritz has been struck by the generosity of unlikely donors, including a migrant worker in Singapore. He recalled trepidation as a gang of street children surrounded him in Montevideo, Uruguay. “I thought, ‘These are exactly the type of kids we want to help,’” he said. “One of them came over and dropped a few coins in my case. You feel it should be the other way round.”

When people walk down the street, “if they decide they’re not going to give you money, they have to blank you out,” he said. “It gave me fantastic insight for what life must be like for those street kids. People see them as being a problem and shut them out, and they’re saying, ‘Hey, just give me a chance.’”

David Juritz is expected to busk at Columbus Circle about 4:45 p.m. today and in the early evening at the ground zero site. He will also perform on Sunday afternoon at a Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra concert at St. Ann’s Church, 157 Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights, and is auctioning a private concert for Saturday night on eBay; musequality.org.

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