World Class Background Noise

May 23, 2011

There probably are some better places to be a “street musician” than in the NYC subway system.  But when I went back home last week and saw the variety of performing artists and the quality of their music – I can’t imagine there are many.

I use the term “street” very loosely.  Here you are really below the street – in the netherworld of the underground. The belly of the beast.

Where else can you find an audience of tens of thousands every day.

Unfortunately, most passers-by are not in the mood to be an audience.  They are in a hurry, they don’t stop.

And, 0f course there is competition for their focus and attention.

But, it is never so cold in the winter that you can’t play.  And it never rains on you. And, you can play pretty much anything – any genre, style, volume, playing ability – and no one is going to complain.

When I was a kid, commuting by subway to JHS in Brooklyn or Music and Art HS in Manhattan, you would see all sorts of musicians — they played in the subway cars… walking through as the subway bounced through the tunnels… playing trumpet or saxophone… with a cup for tips attached.  There also were the deaf-mutes handing out cards that explained sign language, and gathering them up if you didn’t pay for them.  Or the guy with no legs on a dolly… pushing himself through the cars begging.  Musicians were just one part of the show.

Now the musicians are fixed, and licensed, and have banners. It doesn’t seem as though that helps them attract an audience.

And they still have problems being heard… because of the noise of the people and trains all around.

The music is playing everywhere but nobody hears it.

Because their minds are too busy to appreciate what is happening around them in the now.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Beth Phillips May 24, 2011

Sad but true. One becomes inured to any “outside” stimuli when traipsing through subway passages, because we are conditioned to believe that whatever is out there is a potential threat. Indiscriminate shut-out is a stage of death.

Viewser May 25, 2011

Hi Beth –

Tough to stay open to all the inputs around us. Thanks for your comment!

joan May 28, 2011

I once saw the most amazing player of glasses on the street in Venice. He was doing a Bach fugue. Just the old idea but masterfully done. Each glass contained different amounts of water resulting in different pitches. Of course, there are little or no pauses in a Bach piece, so it was wild to watch him fit in a quick wetting of his fingers to continue to play on the rims of the glasses.

Roy Corral January 8, 2013

Thanks for a wonderful and thoughtful blog, Alex!
The world is much too noisy and egocentric. Although there are those trying to put music and color in our day, most people are too busy to notice as documented in your video. When will we smell the flowers? … hopefully not when it’s too late! I’m starting today … hmmm, I guess I’ll have to go to the florist since Alaska is still in winter mode! … so, I’ll start with the spruce trees! Be well, my friend!

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