The next time you feel like throwing money around, don't throw it at a street musician.
The guitar, banjo, flute and fiddle players who pop up like mushrooms along Wisconsin Avenue and M Street at dusk include many who are in it for fun, some who are in it for extra money and a very few who depend on it for their bread and butter. But one and all said they resent it when passersby pelt them with spare change rather an placing money gently in the hat, horn box, guitar case or other receptacle.
"We don't like people to think we're begging," said Herb Watzman, 22, who plays flute to his brother Saul's clarient.
"We like to think we're giving people something," said Saul, 20, "We like them to stop and listen."
Sara Stern, 28, a faculty member for the D.C. Youth Orchestra program, played her flute several times on Georgetown streets this summer to raise money for the orchestra's August trip to Japan.
She once supported herself for a year playing with a street group in San Francisco, but now she's essentially retired from sidewalk performances. Reasons she quit include air pollution and dodging nickels and dimes. She said she got tired of "passersby who give you donations in an insulting way some throw it at you."
Occasional players seem to be more sensitive in this respect than fulltimes. The latter probably number fewer than a half a dozen here. Besides "donations" they depend on performing at parties given by people they've met while playing in the street. They take their money as it comes.
Ebrahim Shakoor, 28, one of Washington's most prominent street players, said when people throw change at him "I pretty much understand. . . I just can't say I don't like them to do that. Sometimes it distracts me, but I don't get hung up on it."
Shakoor is a self-taught poet of the flute who wears rainbow suspenders and a gold earings. He recently shaved both his beard and head and wears a multi-colored knit cap during daytime performances at Farragut Square.
"The purpose of the player in the street is to make the beautiful day a little more beautiful," he said. "If it's sunny, play 'Sunny.' If it's cloudy, play 'Raindrops Are Falling on My Head.' Describe the mood - that's what gets good tips."
Shakoor has been playing blues, jazz, pop, rock and funk in Washington for the past three or four years. He spends most weekends in Canal Square performing "intensive jazz - jazz is the music of the night." When raindrops actually begin to fall, he abandons the field.
Most amateurs are only fair-weather performers. Bluegrass players Dan and Josh Mazer may play only once or twice a month. Dan, 18, plays a banjo and Josh, 17, guitar.
"We go down to Georgetown when the weather's good," said Dan. "I personally have made as little as 75 cents an hour."
Josh just graduated from high school and Dan said he is "into a career as a zoologist."
Herb Watzman works for a weekly publication for college faculty administrations, called Chronicle of Higher Education, and Saul is an intern with Senator John Glenn.
"We play when we feel like it and when we can get together," Saul said.
An acoustic-guitar player who calls himself Igor takes it much more seriously - a little too seriously, perhaps, since be refused to give his true name because "This is really an insane way for a grown man to make a living."
Igor, 30, is a fulltimer like Shakoor. Five days a week he's playing downtown during lunch. He works Georgetown on weekends and he says his season lasts from March to mid-November.
"Musicians can play to a lower temperature than people will support music. I've played when it's as low as 39 degrees, but it's not worth it below about 50," Heat doesn't bother him, but pollution does.
Unlike Shakoor, who makes more money on weekends in Georgetown than downtown, Igor said he prefers lunchtime crowds because "people are fairly serious and fairly sober." He expressed a certain disdain for "people in Georgetown with ice cream stuffed in their mouths."
Igor dislikes playing around large crowds: "People think everybody else is going to give you money." Parks with lots of benches for people to sit down tend to be unproductive, too. The best places, he says, are where a lot of people are walking back and forth.