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MUSIC

Musician for hire brings serenade ‘magic’ to sidewalks and lawns

Gian Carlo Buscaglia played a surprise birthday serenade last week in Woburn.
Gian Carlo Buscaglia played a surprise birthday serenade last week in Woburn.Matthew J Lee/Globe Staff

One Thursday earlier this month, Marilyn Goodrich’s daughter-in-law asked her to be home at 1 p.m. There would be a delivery.

“I thought: What, a singing telegram?” said Goodrich, who lives in a garden apartment in Nahant.

At the appointed time, she looked out her window and saw a guitar, a guitar stand, and a microphone. Troubadour Gian Carlo Buscaglia had arrived to serenade her.

“It was magic,” Goodrich said. “He’s singing all in Spanish, beautiful love songs. His music starts to float. The neighborhood has never experienced anything like it.”

Buscaglia, who specializes in Latin American music, has been serenading people in their homes since early May. The idea came to him after he delivered groceries to his parents.

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“I’d break out the guitar and sing for them,” he said over the phone on his way to sing to an old friend in Marlborough.

“I worked in the streets of Harvard Square since I was 19, in 1984-85,” he said. “I’ve done so much busking, it seemed like a logical thing.”

He plays, he said, “very old-school music from all over Latin America. There, when you sing as a troubadour, a solo artist, you’re a person that plays the repertoire of the continent.”

His song list includes ballads, the romantic strains of pre-Revolutionary Cuba familiar from the Buena Vista Social Club, and the social justice tunes of the New Song movement.

Gian Carlo Buscaglia's specialty is "very old-school music from all over Latin America."
Gian Carlo Buscaglia's specialty is "very old-school music from all over Latin America."Matthew J Lee/Globe Staff

Buscaglia, born in Puerto Rico, came to Massachusetts with his family as a boy in 1979. He enrolled at Boston University but left school after he started playing guitar on the streets of Cambridge. Now he lives in East Providence, with his wife and two daughters, and travels through Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut to perform serenades. He charges $100 an hour.

“People come out of their houses when they hear the music,” he said. “People’s sentiments are good, bad, or mellow. They just want a break in their monotony.”

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Goodrich, who plays classical guitar (“strictly amateur,” she said), has a critical ear.

“I know a good musician,” she said. “He has duende. He’s really special.”

She and her neighbors were transported.

“I got up and started dancing in the grass. My neighbor — she came from Greece at 19; she’s 97 — she saw me, and she started dancing a Greek kind of dance on her balcony,” Goodrich said. “People were listening from two streets away. Old ladies were practically climbing through the bushes to see him.”

In ordinary times, Buscaglia performs in restaurants. “For so many years, a lot of the time I have played in the background,” he said. “This is heaven sent.”

The serenades for people stuck at home are just one of the unusual opportunities the quarantine has opened up for the musician. He has entertained for Zoom meetings. He was invited to a front porch jam session in Jamaica Plain. And he still works for restaurants, who hire him to strum outside during curbside pickup.

But, he said, “Ninety-nine percent of the concerts are at people’s homes.”

For Goodrich, Buscaglia’s serenade did more than relieve the drudgery of social isolation. It punctured the social anxiety she has witnessed.

“People have been so frightened of each other,” she said. “Gian Carlo dispelled all of that.”

Buscaglia has already performed more than 30 serenades. He has gotten so many calls, he’s passing work to others, old busking friends such as jugglers, singer-songwriters, and flamenco dancers.

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“I had to get on the ball because I’m used to other patterns of work,” he said. “I had to move a little faster than usual.”

It means he’s seeing less of his family. Still, he’s finding more rewards than his fee.

“It’s been really healing,” he said. “I’ve grown as a performer and a human being, being in front of such warmth and kindness.”

For more information, contact Buscaglia via mangosta66@gmail.com.


Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.