A classically-trained New York musician pushes his baby grand piano almost a mile through the streets of Manhattan to reach the nearest performance location.
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES (APRIL 15, 2013) (REUTERS) - Colin Huggins is a classically trained pianist and has been playing in New York City parks and on subway platforms for approximately six years. And since 2008, music has been his only form of income.
Huggins says it's a modest living - he can't afford health insurance. His goal is to be an artist and to be able to concentrate on his art instead of wondering whether he's making enough money for rent and food.
"When you're an artist in the making it's kind of hard for you to focus on just the art you're creating because you're also having to spend a lot of energy just focusing on just paying your rent and not even worrying about, you know, you know, what is the artistic validity of what you're doing," Huggins told Reuters before a recent performance in Washington Square Park.
Playing in the park is one thing, but getting a baby grand piano from storage to that park is quite a different challenge.
Huggins used to do it on his own, but now relies on Vinny Longo to bring the instrument to the location and return it to storage -- a distance of 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers) -- after his performance.
When asked why he goes to so much trouble to play in public spaces, the 35-year-old Georgia native said he watched a lot of street artists and noticed that getting attention was about more than just playing an instrument well.
"To a certain degree, part of it was creating a spectacle. You couldn't just do it. It was hard to do it if you're doing something very ordinary but if you were doing something extraordinary that people didn't see all the time then you were more likely to gather a crowd," said Huggins.
That spectacle comes at a cost. Transporting a delicate instrument through bumpy Manhattan streets and exposing the strings to sun for hours at a time takes its toll.
Huggins hires piano tuner George Box once a week and he spends about an hour tuning the instrument.
Huggins says that although most people wouldn't notice if he waited two weeks between tunings, he feels that if the piano is precisely in tune, he is more able as a musician to effect people's emotions.
Huggins' audience is varied: locals and tourists, educated and less schooled, wealthy and poor, and as such, Huggins says much of his audience may not recognize the difference between good and bad music, so he can't rely just on the novelty aspect of a baby grand piano being expertly played in a park.
"I've had to kind of figure out how to play things that, I don't know, that, that can still grab people and kind of go beyond just the fact that there's a piano there and that there is someone playing it."