It seems every busker has different reasons for playing their music in their favorite subway station. For some it is to spread the gift of music. For some the monetary gains are deemed most necessary to pay the bills. For some it is the practice and automatic reaction a crowd of commuters offers to new songs and ideas. For some it is a combination of these reasons. For Ryan LaPerle, busking offered a transformative experience – one where he found his true purpose as a singer-songwriter on the streets of Harvard Square.
With a boisterous, confident singing voice, LaPerle can be heard from blocks away. He is undoubtedly a busker that folks hear and wonder where the music is coming from. So they follow the sound to find LaPerle howling away in one of the tight walking alleys of Cambridge, strumming away at his guitar while paying his due to the busking community, reverently positioning himself so his sound doesn’t intertwine with other surrounding performers.
“I would even say my own voice is loud and abrasive.”
When LaPerle started busking in 2014, he saw his frustrations mounting on off days when his case wasn’t filled with coins and dollars. This is when his ideological transition began. A half-drunk business man fresh off work stood and listened to his music for a few minutes before sending him so much praise about how beautiful his tunes were, and how happy they made him. He admired the vibes that LaPerle was spreading around Harvard Square and how it complemented the setting of the area.
And that was it. Since then, money hasn’t been a way to pay his rent or put dinner on his table; it has a been representative of how many people enjoy his art, a validation of sorts that his work is being appreciated by the masses. Receiving a thumbs up from a listener, or even a smile from someone stopping to take in his music is of incredible value to LaPerle. He connects more with the crowd, and knows that he can feel their energy as a human race, and uses his music to improve their moods.
When asked about a stand out moment during his time busking, he recalled one of the worst days he had ever had playing. The weather was horrible – on and off rain showers with clouds that just wouldn’t leave the sun alone. He broke a few strings. He felt like he was at war with his guitar (LaPerle actually quoted Jack White – “I keep guitars that are, you know, the neck’s a little bent and it’s a little bit out of tune. I want to work and battle it and conquer it and make it express whatever attitude I have at that moment. I want it to be a struggle.”). A few bums had some choice words for him. It just wasn’t his day. Amanda Palmer turned it around for him.
Amanda Palmer is a musician and performer from Boston who is best known for her time with The Dresden Dolls, a hard to describe precisely, kind of dark cabaret musical group. She got her start performing the same place LaPerle plays now – the streets of Harvard Square. And on this particular horrible afternoon that LaPerle was having, Palmer stopped and gave him 20 dollars, a gesture LaPerle viewed that confirmed he had won the battle against the weather and his guitar and his efforts to positively affect those around him was well worth it in the end.
Beyond busking, LaPerle has had quite an impressive solo career for a musician as young as himself. He has spent the last few years travelling and playing gigs at colleges all across the country. He has an audio production certificate from Boston University, where he recorded his debut album which was released in 2009. After this, he focused on playing shows and spreading the word of his new music. In 2012, his mother was diagnosed with leukemia, which transitioned his focus toward his family. He then decided to run the Boston Marathon in honor of his mother’s battle, and raised $11,000 in 2013 for leukemia and lymphoma research. He spent his time training, which left little of his spare time to play shows and further promote his album.
Now LaPerle is focused fully on his musicianship. He busks three to four times a week, with this being his first summer out busking in Harvard Square. He is getting to know the community of other buskers in the area and trying to create a beautiful atmosphere with them and their music for listeners to be engulfed in, truly complementing the beauty of the Cambridge neighborhood.
Listening to LaPerle talk about his music was a true pleasure because of the undeniable passion with which he spoke. He repeatedly apologized for rambling on about subjects, but to me it was just an indication about how much he truly loves spreading his music to others. He currently works as a teacher at Milestones Day School in Waltham, where he teaches music electives as a therapeutic learning and interacting experience for students with learning disabilities. He is truly using his music, in Harvard Square and in the classroom, to give back in ways that money could never buy.
Boston Busking can also be found on Facebook.