Around the world – on a violin string

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The Independent Culture

Keeping an eye out for potential muggers is not something concert violinist David Juritz normally has to contend with mid-recital. Nor are blisters, surly-faced security guards or the audience trying to pretend he doesn't exist and talking studiously into their mobile phones.

But then the regular guest leader with the London Philharmonic Orchestra is not playing the world's gilded concert halls in his black tails. Instead he has been loitering on street corners from Switzerland to Singapore, attempting to busk his way around the world – and Bach.

And this weekend with a final fiddle in New York, the busking odyssey ends and in his violin case will be about £30,000. It's a far cry from the beginning of June, when the South African-born Londoner set out for his local Tube station without a coin to his name, and the beneficiary will be Musequality, a charity that aims to bring music to poor children across the globe.

A flippant thought of playing Bach solo violin works in as many countries as possible, which first came to him when he was a student at the Royal College of Music, resurfaced with his 50th birthday looming.

"It was one of those times where the only thing stopping me was the front door, and I didn't want to be one of those sad old bastards who went on about how they nearly busked their way around the world," Juritz said in an interview. "But there were times when it felt like the whole world had walked past without stopping and I did think 'Bloody hell, what am I doing?'"

Perhaps surprisingly – given that his travels took him to dodgy areas of Rio de Janeiro and regimented China – his toughest gigs were in Europe. He still shudders at the memory of Berlin, where he spent hours braving wind and rain, being constantly harangued by security guards. All he had to show for himself at the end of the day? "Blisters on my feet and €11 in my pocket".

But others were more generous. And with the money tossed into his violin case he managed to cover the transport costs needed to get him round the globe. The Musequality funds came from mini-concerts organised on the hoof at embassies, corporate dos and private recitals auctioned off on eBay.

Other pitches where he played were not so lucrative but reminded him why he was doing this. In Montevideo, a guy high on drugs accompanied by half a dozen street children edged closer as dusk was falling. Juritz feared he was about to be robbed, but in fact the Uruguayans were just transfixed by the music and one of them even tossed a coin in his direction.

"That got me really choked up," he said. "They were exactly the sort of kids we want to help. Music does have the power to transform lives. You get self-discipline from playing an instrument. You cannot beg, borrow or steal the ability to play, you have to practise and earn it. And then there's the self respect from having people really listen to you."

Having people walk on by as he fiddled was a real turning of the tables. "I got an insight into how it must feel to be blanked all the time, as many of these kids are," Juritz said. "I've got a hide like a rhinoceros now."

And his musical labours are already bearing fruit. Next week in the Ugandan capital Kampala, pupils at the Tender Talents Magnet School will start music lessons with a choice of piano, guitar, recorder or singing.

As for Juritz it's back to Blighty and farewell to his itinerant lifestyle of the last four and a half months. "I'm still amazed I've not been mugged," he jokes. And next Saturday he returns to the concert hall. "It'll be strange playing indoors without having to compete with the wind and the traffic. But it'll be quite nice to have a fully attentive audience again."

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