In New Orleans, roving violinist brings joy to isolated residents


NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – When pedicab operator Sarah Grant and French Quarter street violinist Anna Roznowska realized in March their livelihoods and lifestyles were threatened by New Orleans’ stay-at-home order to stop the spread of the coronavirus, they were initially at a loss.

Then Grant, a Maine transplant to the Big Easy who spent years in Zambia with the Peace Corps, and Roznowska, a conservatory-trained classical violinist from Poland, decided to take their show on the road.

The two have named their effort the Mobile Music Box. Grant peddles the pedicab that carries Roznowska as she plays, the performance winding its way through New Orleans neighborhoods.

“We didn’t know how much people needed it,” said Roznowska.

In a city that typically throbs with live music, shuttered bars and quiet streets have created a void. Strict limits on gatherings have canceled concerts, parades and the Jazz and Heritage Festival, which would have brought hundreds of thousands of people together this week and next.

Now Roznowska’s ethereal freestyle melodies on her violin, augmented by a playback loop and vocals, echo through oak-lined New Orleans streets.

“It’s amazing and uplifting and, you know, live music is what we miss most right now, and it brings everyone out and makes everyone, you know, feel like it’s a beautiful day,” said resident Elsa Kern, who stopped to listen as the women rolled past.

Residents Willie Anderson and Wanda Brown were glad for a break from the monotony of self-isolation.

“Fantastic, something to cheer up the neighborhood,” Anderson said. Added Brown: “Something to make you laugh to keep from crying.”

Roznowska and Grant vary their route every day. While they accept tips, they also appreciate the good vibes that come their way.

“If we make money, awesome… but it was something that was definitely born out of love and probably has a bit of a life of its own,” Grant said.

“So there’s no real plan except just to keep doing it,” she said.

Reporting by Catherine Koppel, Writing by Cynthia Osterman, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien