It’s the youngsters who zero in on him and stop, mesmerized. More-aware adults will slow — and then find themselves transfixed as well.
Their focus has veered from mini-donuts and wine samples to Josh Emara, who busks at the Capital City Public Market in Downtown Boise. That means he plays for tips.
He says: “I’ve had many conversations with my mom — I would honestly be fine if I didn’t get any money. ... I really just do it because I love to do it. And I love to share joy and passion with other people.”
What makes him stand out is not just his age, although there is that. Nor is it the electric violin that he plays so eloquently, although there is that, too.
But he dances.
And plays the violin. And is 12 years old.
And as if that weren’t enough, there’s also a youthful honesty about his performance that is both captivating and entrancing.
“I hope (people) feel uplifted. I know there’s a lot of horrible things going on right now ... (but) I want people to walk away feeling good about themselves and good about what they’re doing. ...
“That’s all that really matters to me.”
• • •
Even before the violin, Josh had felt the music, and there had been music all around: His grandmother, Nina Wilkins, is a longtime piano and organ teacher in Rexburg (who performed a concert on her 85th birthday); and his mother, Shauna Emara, is a violin and piano teacher and performer.
As early as he can remember, Josh danced to the music. He danced on the patio, he danced in the living room, his own version of hip-hop, sort of. He discovered Madonna and upped his moves; he’d put on shows for the neighborhood kids.
“Ever since I did the talent show in first grade or kindergarten, ... I’ve always known I wanted to be a performer. ...
“It was so much fun. The applause from the crowd made me feel so high off life. ...
“I would muster every little bit of energy I could give them and just wring it all out and let them feel it.”
And so in fifth grade — just a couple of years ago — Josh picked up the violin.
“We were doing orchestra and it was things like ‘Twinkle, twinkle.” I got really bored, and so I was like, I’m going to do my own thing. I kind of broke away and kind of taught myself.”
He had discovered the YouTube videos of Lindsey Stirling, a dancing violinist with a message of empowerment. She had been a quarter-finalist on the fifth season of “America’s Got Talent” before she was told, essentially, that a dancing violinist wasn’t a viable career.
“I was so inspired by her not giving up on her dreams. She could have very easily quit, like she was going to not play. She ... said no, I’m going to go on; I’m going to do this without them. ...
“I was so inspired by her choices to do that, that I started playing the violin.”
Josh studied her songs and her moves. There was an aha moment when he realized her movements corresponded to the beat and the notes she was playing.
“I was like, wait, if I do that with every movement, it won’t be as hard to dance. I don’t want to give away any of my secrets, but ... (I went running to my mom) I think I figured it out.”
Josh got the idea to go to the market when his class was doing cookie fundraisers for science camp.
“I was like, yeah, I’m not going to do that. So we went Downtown with a sign, and in like two weeks we got the money.
“It was really fun to know that I did that. ... And it’s really amazing that people down there respect what I do enough to donate and to help.”
• • •
After Josh funded science camp, his tips went toward a down-payment on a full-size violin and an electric violin, which he’s still paying off. A portion of his tips he willingly gives to his mother, and there has been enough to buy a transmitter, amp, pickup and cords for performing. As well as a looper pedal so he can explore writing his own music.
“I have so much to say. I don’t want to express it with words — I want to do it with music, because that’s really the only way I know how.”
He reflects on what he might want to convey without words.
“I had to go through many things that were hard to understand (before I realized) that things happen (and they) aren’t always happy and sunshine. (But) they make you who you are.”
For instance, a close family member of Josh’s has a mental illness that is currently being treated, but before then, family life was difficult and tumultuous. He says the experience tested his “durability as a human.”
“To take ... (those experiences) and understand that what he did and the things he did — they were not good — they made me stronger and more like a fully realized person.”
Because instead of bitterness and anger toward this person, Josh has equanimity.
“It’s really easy to easy to resent and to not forgive, because that’s one of people’s natural reflexes when someone does something that you don’t like. ... But it’s the not-forgiving that holds us back. ...
“You don’t have to like someone to forgive them. You just have to understand that this is what happened and this is the way they are and they aren’t going to change — so you just have to forgive them for that and move on.
“I realize that everything happens for a reason. People that try to tear you down and people that make fun of you — they’re just making things easier for you in the long run. ...
“After what I went through, all that with (him), (difficult) things at school became like dust on my shoulder that I could brush off.”
It was, in part, music that helped Josh find his way.
“Music is my personal therapist. I can go to it anytime — feeling down or when I’m feeling really happy. ... It’s like something that’s always like flexible to my emotions.
“It’s like a place I can go ... and feel inspired, and just feel all of these things.”
• • •
Maybe it’s that intensity that stops market-goers on Saturday mornings. (It could be his grin, too.)
“I want people to watch me and feel ... like they’re watching a movie almost, a rollercoaster of emotions. All these feelings all at once, then it’s done. Like, oh. Wow.
“And they walk away feeling it was worth it to watch, because they felt something or it made them realize something.”
One Saturday last summer, some passersby recognized Lindsey Stirling’s music and asked Josh if he was going to her concert. He hadn’t realized she was going to be in Boise.
“I had this money and I was going to put it toward other things, like my music, but I was like, no. I should do this. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet the person who made it possible for me to be where I am.”
He took all his tip money and bought front-row, meet-and-greet tickets for himself and his mother.
“I met (Lindsey) and told her about how I raised all the money myself to go meet her and she was like, oh, that’s so amazing. I thought that was it.”
But no. From the stage, Lindsey told his story. Josh’s mother was beside herself poking him in the ribs, while Josh himself listened in disbelief.
“And then she pointed to me and she told me to stand up. ...
“It was the best day of my life.”
Shauna: “We got to tell her that the reason we were there was because this boy raised money — doing what you inspired him to do.”
Josh: “It was a full-circle moment. ...
“Music has done such amazing things and made me realize who I am — and made me not afraid to show it. And to let other people know they can be who they are and not be ashamed.
“Just let it shine.”
P.S. In case you wondered: Josh has his future planned. After high school, he’ll apply to The Juilliard School and move to New York City. Although that’s just a start.
“There are so many things I want to do. I don’t just want to be a violinist and a dancer, but I love doing both those things. I want to be an actor; I want to be a director for movies. I want to (design) clothes, produce music — I want to do everything.”
Roy Bosley, a passionate artist and woodworker who was the subject of the previous Heart of Treasure Valley, passed away early Sunday, July 2, 2017. He didn’t reach the 100-day prognosis he was given after his leukemia diagnosis, but he died quietly and at peace, the way he wanted. “Keep trying new things,” is the message he hoped others would take to heart. Read his story and watch his video at IdahoStatesman.com/Heart.