Silence on the streets


Larkin Taylor-Parker plays tuba in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery at festivals a few times a year.

For a city well known for its arts, Decatur’s streets are fairly empty of musicians. Conflict arises between the city and the musicians – the city wants to encourage the musicians, but many street performers find that Decatur’s laws are too strict.

Lyn Menne, the head of Community and Economic Development for the City of Decatur, works on bringing musicians out to perform.

To support musicians, the city anually sponsors events like Concert of the Square. They are also working with Core Dance to create a dance tour that moves listeners around the square to experience music in a different way.

City Hall, however, takes the position that if musicians are collecting money for a service, they are also running a business.

“You want to sit outside and play, that’s fine, but you can’t solicit money for it,” Menne said.

Menne says that the city has to balance between what is truly a street musician and what is a “nuisance.” In order to prevent “nuisances,” the city requires street musicians to have a license.

Larkin Taylor-Parker, a junior at Agnes Scott, finds Decatur’s requirements too strict. She performs around Atlanta because there is no license required. In Little Five Points, she plays with a brick wall behind her for support. Another favorite destination of Taylor-Parker’s is Candler Park.

“In Candler Park, I play by the Flying Biscuit,” she said, “and for about a year they have been very nice to me. They feed me. They’re generally pretty generous people.”

While most street musicians play portable instruments like trumpet, saxaphone or guitar, Taylor-Parker plays the tuba. She has to work out challenges other musicians would have less trouble with.

“In really bad weather, it can be physically challenging because it’s a 40 pound horn,” Taylor-Parker said. Taylor-Parker is frustrated when people walk by and pretend not to notice her. She wishes people would appreciate her music instead of feeling guilty.

“If people don’t think my playing is quite worth it, or don’t have the money at the moment, or just forgot to carry change that day, I’m okay with people enjoying it – even if they can’t or won’t pay,” Taylor-Parker said.

Not only do people passing by not acknowledge her, but some think that she might steal from them.

“It’s amazing,” Taylor-Parker said. “I have seen women put their purses on the other shoulder and then put their wallets in their other pocket. I am holding a 40 pound horn. If I could steal and do that at the same time it would be pretty amazing. I’m not sure how that would be humanly possible.”

Decatur is a more practical place to play than Atlanta because of the Screen shot 2013-02-02 at 10.21.56 AM (2)location. Staying at Agnes Scott would make playing downtown more convenient. Still, Taylor-Parker is unsure that Decatur’s the best place to perform.

“I’m not really sure it’s a place I want to play. I would if they found some way for me to do it,” she said.

Taylor-Parker stays around Atlanta because playing in Decatur is more expensive.

Menne understands that the current policy may not work best for street musicians.

“I can’t imagine it’s that much they make in downtown Decatur,” Menne said. “It’s not like you would be on the streets of New York where you have hundreds of thousands of people walking by.”

The amount of money Taylor-Parker can make is limited. She can play for three hours maximum.

“On a good day, a good Saturday, I can get up to 20 dollars an hour. The tricky part is the finite number of hours I can keep it up,” Taylor-Parker said.

She still enjoys playing, and says it is “not as bad as far as college jobs go.” She plays on weekends and on some Street musicians face problems with city’s ordinance weeknights, when she isn’t backed up with school work.

Taylor-Parker hasn’t quite adjusted to the musical atmosphere of Decatur.

“If [the law] would change, I would play,” Taylor-Parker said. “I’m not sure I would do it if there were a license and a fee because there’s not one for Atlanta. There are parts of Decatur where I guess it would be worth it, but it would depend on how much it cost.”

The city is trying to pass a new policy to make it easier for musicians. The city would pay a certain amount to the musicians directly instead of the musicians having to collect money from by-goers.

“Frankly, I think what we would pay as a stipend would be more than somebody would make with a hat out,” Menne said.

To reach out to her audience, as well as make more money, Taylor-Parker mixes up keys and tunes, and tries to perceive what the people want. If she sees a couple on a date, she’ll play love songs.

“It is [sweet], but it’s also kind of practical – I’m more likely to get a tip if they’re happy and the world is doing exactly what it should,” Taylor-Parker said.

Decatur’s foot traffic is ideal for street musicians, Taylor-Parker says. Menne also welcomes musicians.

“They want to play on public property. As long as they’re not violating the noise ordinance, we don’t have a problem with that,” Menne said.