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Interview in English for Miasto Kobiet

Meet a musician from Grodzka street. (Grodzka street in Kraków, Poland is one of the oldest and the most beautiful streets in the city. It is a part of the Royal Route and was used by Polish kings to reach their castle, the Wawel Castle – added by translator).

His life is like a movie script: a musician with conservatory education decides to abandon concert halls career to play in the streets, literally. He thinks, that in this way he will be able to get attention to his very own repertoire. And to overcome his fears and limitations. Let us introduce Andy Grabowski of Grodzka Street in Kraków. He seems to be a living symbol of the city. He is an extraordinary author of Imagine Cello project. His music and playing release emotions, awake spiritual needs and above all connect people.

Ewa Szponar: How would you describe the music you play?

Andy Grabowski: It is a difficult question. I cannot define it. The same happen to people who organise my concerts. They describe it in very different ways. One explanation is that the music I compose is mine. When I create it, I do not categorise. I do not think about its style. I believe my style is unique. I am the only one and that is why quite hard to label me. I will answer the question using sentences I was introduced before the concert in Norway: Andy created an exceptional project Imagine Cello. I can assure you that you have never associated the cello with the sounds you are going to hear and listen soon. To be precise, they are sounds of more than one cello, because Andy uses many devices and effects on the stage. Nothing has been recorded before. Everything you are going to hear is live, in real time. And I think this a clue of my compositions.

Your music is exceptional not only because of usage of technology. Your tunes are filled with emotions, spirituality.

Andy Grabowski: This music is very personal. Everything what constitutes me, I introduce and show up to the world through my music. The concert is a spiritual experience. Andy Grabowski: Yes, and only for me, but also for my audiences. After the concert, no matter where it is, in a hall or in the street I always receive feedback. People tell their reactions to my music. Most of these messages are about spiritual experiences and these are beyond any level of the entertainment. My music, as each one, is to entertain, but the audience sense something more. And these responses give me wings and make me come back to Grodzka street with a great pleasure.

Do you interact with the audience during your concerts?

Andy Grabowski: Yes, practically every day. That is the difference between playing in the street and in a closed area of a concert hall. Of course, after a concert in a hall I hear responses, but it happens after the concert. In Grodzka street people response after every piece of music. Two days ago, happened something quite unusual. To my concert in the street came a young black girl. She was sitting among other people on a bench. While listening to my music she started crying. Tears just start running down her face. That view moved me very much and after the second piece of music I decided to come to her and ask what had happened. I must say I do it very rarely, normally I do not come to listeners. More often is quite opposite: listeners come to me and start a conversation. I asked that girl what had happened, and she said that my music had opened her heart. She came from Africa and the sounds she had just heard reminded her about home. It touched me a lot. I was completely struck by her reaction. But on the other hand, that situation gave me a positive energy to continue the concert. That evening I knew I had never been playing so rhythmically. Playing I imagined the history of her ancestors and I had a feeling to be in Africa. It was an amazing experience and exchange of very good energy.

It seems that a mutual energy is felt in your debut album, the one we have already mentioned, Imagine Cello, released in 2017.

Andy Grabowski: That album would not have been launched without my audience. It was fully financed by a crowdfunding project. When I announced the request on my website and Facebook it took a week to raise needed money. A stunning reaction. The money mainly came from my fans, fans who had heard me in Grodzka street. I would like to say my sincere thank you to all of them. Without them that album would not have been released. And I agree with Antoni Krupa from Radio Kraków who told me: a musician without their own record is not a true musician. I must say there is something very true in that statement.

How did you start your concerts in Grodzka street?

Andy Grabowski: I am a cellist. I graduated from the Academy of Music in Kraków. And at the beginning of my career I played mainly a classical repertoire. About three years ago I created my own project and wanted to present it to the audience. I could have started cooperation with one of traditional music clubs. And I guess it must have been difficult without any connections. I did not have any and did not want to have ones. I have chosen the street. I wanted to create my music, start from scratch, from the very beginning and I wanted to change my life as well. I have no manager and so far, it has been working quite well. It is me who decides about the repertoire. You know, there are musicians called Two Cellos and they play at stadiums. They are great beyond any doubt, but they play covers. If I wanted to follow that path I would have to give up my own music. The decision to start playing in the street was considered very carefully. I was sure that the most important factor of it was a chance to play my own compositions freely.

Was it a difficult decision to go out and start playing for a very random audience?

Andy Grabowski: Firstly, I needed to grow up to it, to that decision. I needed to open myself to listeners and play concerts on a very different, wider level. Secondly, I had the problem with the idea of the street. My ego wanted to be heard desperately and kept whispering: what, me a professional musician was going to play in the street, not in a concert hall as my colleagues do. Fortunately, direct and personal reactions of the listeners helped me give up these thoughts quickly and successfully. Meeting my audience makes me feel complete. Now, during the holiday time, every day I receive requests from the audience from all over the world. They would like to know if I play in Grodzka street. And if I continue it they ask when they can come and listen to me and my music. For some of them visiting Kraków includes being at my street concert. I do not treat only these concerts, street concerts as a way to make money. Every time I appear in Grodzka street, I do my best and would like to give the best concert ever.

Does the street help to get used to the audience?

Andy Grabowski: I had a quite big gap in public performances. Before my street project I played mainly a classic cello repertoire. Unfortunately, Polish reality is very rough and limited, occupied by famous musicians. There are very few chances to test yourself in something different, more individual. When I started working on Imagine Cello, I needed to face and cope with many very own fears, such as lack of self-esteem. I can admit without any hesitation that this project has changed my life literally.

What kind of fears did you face?

Andy Grabowski: Probably, the one which every artist faces, perfectionism. It was really hard when I was about to finish working on my record. And I must say that I made the album on my own: from the recording music during my concerts to postproduction. A voice of perfectionism made me feel very unsecure. I got the feeling that something had not been done properly and I should have made some corrections etc. Fortunately, I got help. One person told me an important thing: better is made from ideal. I knew I needed to set a deadline and finish what I had started. I did it, but the last week and the last night were very intensive. I worked without breaks, from 9 am to 9 am. I got crazy and made corrections where only I thought they should have been done. The same happens at the concert when only I am aware what kind of effort I put into my playing: from flat level through ok to great one. This perfectionism is a part of me. It is a sort of hypersensitivity.

To whom - not mention your audience - do owe the most when we speak about your compositions and being a musician in general?

Andy Grabowski: On the record there is a dedication to Andrzej Surma and my parents. Late Andrzej Surma was my guru. He was an extraordinary man who helped thousands of people like me. I realised that during his funeral. He was an unknown person, nonmedia one but very opened to other people. He treated helping people as a lifelong mission.

What was his influence on you?

Andy Grabowski: I helped me become who I am now. He helped me open to other people, to my spirituality and my needs. He saved my life.

When we speak about spirituality I have an impression that you are a quite experienced person but not assigned with a specific religion.

Andy Grabowski: Recently I have had a nice experience. It was in Norway. Before the concert I went out to the street to warm up. I started playing. The street was empty, but it did not distract me at all. At one moment, a young man came to me and asked if I believed in God. I answered him in that way: imagine you can see a high mountain and you are looking at its peak. You can see it only from the place where you are. And on the other side of that mountain there is another man who is observing the same mountain as you. And he does it from a very different perspective. For me God is some kind force, energy and light. He is the one and religions speak about it but differently. The subject is the same: love, open heart and the power of spirituality. I was born in a catholic family, but I am close to Buddhism and Hinduism.

Music is like a religion, should connect not divide?

Andy Grabowski: Nowadays we see something different. There are many conflicts based on religious or faith problems. It does not make any sense. Grodzka street and my concerts are amazing experience in that context. I can see that music connects people. Christians, Jews and Muslim come to me. They all respond to my music and treat it in very spiritual ways. Music truly connects, and it can be seen in your very diverse audiences. Andy Grabowski: Yes indeed. In Grodzka street you can meet everybody, from a tramp to a respectable city dweller. Once one homeless, already a little drank, was sitting on a bench, near a to a professor of philosophy who I know. Listening to the concert they both were moved and had tears in their eyes. Having no home or experiencing rough time do not erase sensibility to art. Quite contrary. One man who works with the homeless told me that during final weeks of the last year, when the weather was cold some homeless people would come to listen to my concerts every day. They sat quietly and listened to my music. These experiences are exceptional and impossible to happen in a concert hall. That is why I still come to Grodzka street. I take part in bigger events more often now, some of them are in concert halls, churches or courtyards etc. I swear that when I play as many regular concerts as I would like to I will be continuing to come and play in Grodzka street. I will do it for these interpersonal meetings with my audience. Ewa Szponar

Thanks to Aleksandra Murzańska for translating.