By: Jacob Forbes, Staff Writer
Matt Wiltshire, Ed Mitchell, and Josh Hyssong all arrived at USM’s School of Music in September for their first semester as music education majors. Like any other freshman, they were soon enmeshed in the adjustment to a new lifestyle. But Mitchell quickly realized that he could
continue something in college that he had been doing as a high school student for years: busk on the streets of Portland.
Busking is just a more efficient term for street performing. It can range from the most professionally executed acts to mere background noise. For the music students at USM, it bis nothing too organized or idealized. Think impromptu. With the question, “Hey you guys want to go play in the streets?” Mitchell, a trumpet player from Poland Maine, not only piqued the interest of his friends, but conveyed the informal modus operandi that was to characterize their musical gatherings this fall. As Wiltshire, a gregarious and easy-going young man put it, they all “just kind of sent it out. And that was the way it was with everybody. We just kind of went out [and] saw what would happen.” The three of them have been performing as a group andwith other USM musicians on occasions of the First Friday Art Walk, cruise ship ports and just “any day that nobody [of the musicians] has anything” going on.
Wiltshire is a percussionist from Morrisville, Vermont. He came to USM with his high school music teacher, a School of Music alum, acting as a guide. He said in an interview that he “liked what Nick [Allen, class of 2014] said about the program” and decided to apply and audition.
Unlike Mitchell, Wiltshire had never done any actual busking with a group before this fall. He said that “a few weeks before college I came up to Old Orchard Beach and did some stick tricks on the side of the road…but now that I’m here I’ve got people I can jam with.”
On campus, Hyssong, Wiltshire and Mitchell “might have played for like an hour together” but soon decided to go out to play in Portland. “It’s very easy,” Mitchell said in an interview. Mitchell is the most driven to gig in Portland and admitted that he already has formed a quintet
for playing in local clubs, but Hyssong and Wiltshire also have their own projects and influences. Hyssong is from South Portland, Maine and plays the saxophones. When asked about an artist who he has in mind while he busks, he named Leo P, a NYC-based street performer whose
YouTube videos show “a guy playing a bari sax in the subway and dancing around.” It is an apt connection since both Leo P and Josh have to be the low-melodic anchor in bands without a bass player.
With just a trumpet, saxophone and percussion the trio plays adventuresome and improvisatory music. Hyssong describes it as “freelancefree-lance, ad-lib kind of playing” while Wiltshire talks about the “free-styling” and “building off of each other” that happens during a song with “a lot of soloing.” The open nature of the music mirrors the fluid formation of the busking groups. Wiltshire goes out regularly in a duo with a singer in the USM school of Music named Jillian Buote, and Mitchell recently brought out eight musicians to busk on the streets. As long as somebody has interest in going out and busking, these musicians at USM seem to make any combination of
instruments work for the evening.
The busking has also turned out the be the little money maker they were hoping for. They said it was a “combination of wanting to try and make a few bucks as well as just playing to have fun” that first made them want to busk and that it is “good to go out and do something you
like…make some money.” Wiltshire apparently spends his money the same evening on dinner, but Mitchell has been keeping all of his earnings in a jar, saving for some larger goal.
They have been earning positive reactions from the public as well. The three say that “some people do actually come up and say that they really enjoy what we are doing” and tell them that their busking “makes Portland Portland.” In addition to a few “characters”, they also met another Portland street performer, Chris James, who “stayed and jammed with [them] after talking to [them].”
With winter coming, nothing seems to be deterring their drive to keep performing and enlivening Portland’s public
spaces. They want to contact local galleries to play in or will just “figure it out and keep our hands warm somehow.” Besides, they “get to go out, not work, make money, and then go eat for free. You can’t really complain about that.”
You really can’t. Let’s hope to see them continue as a boon for the USM’s School of Music and for all of us in Southern Maine that just might walk by and enjoy one of their performances.