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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lowry Mall violinist plays for more than spare change

Brennus, a former contractor computer worker, has no formal training on the violin.

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Lowry Mall's resident violinist, who goes only by the name Brennus, plays his violin. Brennus, who has had no formal musical training, is often seen playing on campus and downtown.

Grant Hindsley/Senior Staff Photographer

Nov. 16, 2010

It's another chilly autumn day in Lowry Mall. It's quickly approaching noon, and the area is full of students making their way through the crowded brick walkway. Off to one side, an older gentleman plays the violin, his case open, inviting passers-by to buy his lunch.

Brennus, like Cher, Seal and Madonna, is known in musical circles by only one name. He plays on Lowry Mall once or twice a day and almost every day in downtown Columbia.

Freshman Samantha Johnson has stopped to listen to the musician play before.

“I purposefully wanted to walk by, because he draws you in,” Johnson said. “It’s really awesome to see the people who are walking past stop and take a moment, just chill and soak up the awesome. It takes a lot of courage to play at a college campus, because you never know if the people are going to take you seriously.”

Brennus has only recently begun to rely financially on his street performances: before the economic crisis, he did contract computer work.

“I hadn’t had a contract in a while, and I had run through my savings,” Brennus said. “It was a very natural thing. I was thrown against the wall, and I came away fiddling.”

Another musician routinely seen performing on the downtown streets of Columbia is Raven Wolf C. Felton Jennings II. Unlike Brennus, he's a professional musician who's well-known for giving street performances.

“(Giving a street performance) is no different than playing a concert or recording in a studio,” Jennings said. “They demand the same quality, attention and depth of clarity, effort and understanding.”

Like Jennings, Brennus plays a variety of instruments, including piano, flute and the Irish whistle.

“My favorite instrument to play is the flute, but I can’t make any money doing it,” Brennus said. “I played for an hour one day and only made 65 cents.”

This can perhaps be attributed to the nature of the instrument. A violin, or fiddle, is louder and more visually impressive.

“(Playing with the violin) I can make anywhere between $10 and $80,” Brennus said. “Usually I make $10 or $20.”

Even though he has only been giving street performances in Columbia for a few months, he celebrated 10 years with his violin this August.

“One of my friends who had a collection sold it to me,” Brennus said. “I didn’t know how to play, so I had to learn. I taught myself. I haven’t had any training.”

As Johnson pointed out, many MU students could benefit from following Brennus’ example.

“I guess it goes to show that you don’t need a college degree to do what you love and make a few bucks while you’re at it,” Johnson said.

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