Barnett the busker

Orchestra teacher earns extra cash with the use of a unique tool

By Kennedy "Ken" Bigham, Staff Writer

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Since her college days, new orchestra director Mariah Barnett has carried on a tradition in downtown Lawrence.

She spends her free time on Mass Street busking, which means playing music on streets or subways for donations.

“When I was [a sophomore in college], I was supposed to go home to see my family over the weekend, and I was broke,” she said. “I didn’t have any gas money, and I was like, ‘What am I going to do?’ I think I had 3 bucks in my account, and that was not going to get me to Salina. [I said] ‘I’ll go play on Mass, so I took my cello down to Mass Street, and busked, and made $28. That’s what started me. I needed quick cash.”

The money came in handy.

“Many times, we would be down to our last dollar, and I knew that if Mariah sat and played her cello on Mass for an hour or so, she could earn enough to fill our tank with gas so we could go to Salina to visit our families,” Barnett’s wife, Myranda, said.

The money isn’t the only thing that’s good about busking, assistant orchestra director Russell Clark said.

“We can make some money,” Clark said. “But it’s about fun, going out there and playing some tunes and doing something different.”

In addition to playing classical selections, Barnett will bring a looping pedal that gives her songs a more modern feel.

Playing the cello while using the loop pedal, Mrs. Mariah Barnett demonstrates how she uses the device to accompany herself. The new orchestra teacher busks about six times a year on mass street and at the lake. “I’ll busk about four times just at the lake for the campground” Mrs. Barnett said. “thats mostly to perform for my family and friends.”

“A looping pedal will allow me to record as much as I want, and it’ll play it back to me, and then I can record on top of that, and I can make multiple levels of sound harmonizing,” she said. “I can do a whole lot where I accompany myself playing.”

Clark has mentioned that he also has a looping pedal and suggested he and Barnett busk together.

He had no idea that Barnett was a busker when they first met. He found out when she brought her pedal to class within the first few weeks of school to demonstrate its use to students.

“I met her first through Lawrence Community Orchestra,” he said. “She was just a cellist in the cello section. I was a violinist. Then, we started teaching Lawrence Youth Symphony together, and all that time, she never told me. When she told the kids in class, that’s when I found out.”

While she doesn’t busk often due to weather complications, Barnett has found her experience busking to be overwhelmingly positive, and encourages others to try it out.

“To anybody that’s interested in getting started in busking, just go out and do it,” Barnett said. “You don’t have to be the best musician. It’s nerve wracking at first, and it can be scary, but once you overcome that. You become so much better of a musician.”