He emerges from behind the pillar, his step hurried. His clothes – khaki pants and a plain T-shirt – are appropriate for the setting. He sets up his violin and begins to play outside of the tiny McDonald’s at Suburban Station.
It is 9:30 a.m. For most of the people hurrying in and out of the train station, it is a typical morning. Street musicians are common in the train station. The headlining talents change on a daily basis.
But as Joshua Kerviv begins to play, all of the busy noises of the train station fade out. He plays “Nocturne X,” an original composition he created only a week before. The sweet sound of violin echoes through the station, but men in suits and women in professional attire hurry past, paying very little attention to the talented musician.
Believe it or not, Kerviv has studied with some of the best musicians in Philadelphia. His father, Daniel Kerviv, graduated from the Curtis Institute of Philadelphia more than 20 years ago and taught his son a great deal about the violin.
“It’s all about passion,” Kerviv said. “Playing the violin makes me feel alive, and I can feel the intensity of a piece.”
Kerviv is dedicated to his music. For the next three hours, he sits and plays his violin. He keeps his violin case open in order to collect donations. He plays popular tunes, including James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” and The Fray’s “Over My Head (Cable Car),” but it’s clear that his true love is classical music. Twenty seconds into Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” an onlooker drops a $5 bill into Kerviv’s violin case.
For Kerviv, that’s all the motivation he needs to keep going. “I have a love for music,” he said. “But it doesn’t pay the bills.”
Kerviv expects to spend almost 70 hours a week performing across Philadelphia in order to pay off his rent and bills.
Kerviv, 26, said he never expected to play in the middle of Suburban Station. His goals were more ambitious once, and he still hopes to play someday at Carnegie Hall. Until then, he’ll play music anywhere he can.
“It’s a tough career,” Kerviv said. “But you have to believe in yourself.”
If music is all about hope, then Jerimah Doyel is the living embodiment of this. At 19 years old, he is a firm believer in the power of music.
“Music can evoke emotions and bring out a part of you,” Doyel said. “That is why I play.”
Doyel is on his third straight week of playing in the popular Rittenhouse Square. Standing at only five feet tall, his height makes him look even younger than 19. But as he takes out his electric keyboard, there is a seriousness to his movements. His actions are quick and deliberate.
He begins to play the piece “On My Own” from Les Miserables. A crowd begins to gather near the fountains where Doyel is playing. One onlooker closes his eyes and begins to hum the tune, while two nannies with children wander over to listen.
The song is heartbreaking but commanding. As Doyel plays, the audience listens quietly and respectfully. One old man shouts out “What’s your name?” to Doyel, but his eyes are glued to the keyboard, his concentration deep in his music.
He finishes the piece and a scattering of applause follows. Several people thrust dollar bills toward Doyel, but he makes no move to take the money.
It’s all about the music.
“I don’t play for money,” Doyel said. “I play for me.”
Surprisingly, music isn’t a full-time job for Doyel. His full-time job is retail, but his true passion is for music.
“I watched my grandmother cry as I played one of her favorite songs,” Doyel said. “What else could I ask for?”
Being a street musician isn’t glamorous. The hours are long and tiresome. Passersby show little or no interest, which can make the job even harder.
An artist only known as Moore has played on the streets for almost 15 years. In that time, he has experienced a lot – everything from being laughed at to avoiding arrest last fall in Rittenhouse Square.
“It doesn’t stop me from playing, though,” Moore said. “It’s music.”
A short time later, Moore decides it is time to play. He puts his trombone to his lips and the burst of music echoes in the quiet park.
It is music. And on that crisp fall afternoon, the appreciation for music lingers on.
Stacy Lipson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.