Street Musicians

Thursday, July 29, 2010 - 11:14 AM

I have a rule about street musicians. If they make me smile, I give them money. And that goes for subway musicians, too.

Last weekend, when I got off the C train at the Museum of Natural History, the last thing I expected was to find a man sitting in the subway station, playing a kokyu (at least I think that's it was). He got money. The roving mariachi bands that invade subway cars with carefully-engineered choruses of "Cielito Lindo" that leave just enough time to pass the hat before the next stop -- if they're engaging -- and their instruments are in tune -- they get money.  
One bleak evening last winter, there was a little black cloud over my head until the subway doors opened on a spirited Celtic fiddler, blonde ponytail bobbing in time to the music. I quickly rummaged in my purse for a handful of change, took careful aim, and tossed it onto the platform before the doors closed again. Money well deserved.

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Comments [18]


As we commute here and there through the city we encounter many sights and sounds. Life today is so fastpaced and we are usually so preoccupied that we sometimes dont see or hear a lot of what goes on around us. Occasionally something will catch your eye or ear and you know its worth a closer look. Late one august evening 3 very talented young men provided a moment like that for commuters at the Bedford Ave subway stop. Two tenor saxophones and a drummer played as a crowd gathered and if you weren't dancing or taking pictures of them with your cell phone you were at least tapping your feet and cheering. Their sound was funky and upbeat. A youtube submitter described their playing as " so much energy so much attitude " i agree. The cardboard sign in front of them said 'We are Moon Hooch'. There are many videos of their performances on youtube. Thanks and good luck to them.

Oct. 22 2010 11:12 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane. from Lake Hiawatha, NJ

Street Musicians may be as talented as any musicians, singers, actors or composers, especially when the economy has eliminated many other options. GIVE them the support they NEED for their aspirations and their physical survival. You'll feel the better for helping your fellow human.

Aug. 07 2010 08:12 AM
Derek rodriguez

Everytime I use the subway, I enjoy listening to the music street musicians play for the public. Its a great way of entertainment while getting off or on the subway, and when you give money to the street musician, it inspires them to play more. Not to earn money (well most of the time), but to continue pleasing the public with their beautiful music.

Aug. 05 2010 04:09 PM
mfong from NYC

This is about the bouncing ball and Mitch Miller as found on Wikipedia:

... The bouncing ball was invented at Fleischer Studios for the Song Car-Tunes series of animated cartoons... in Sept. 1925...

... The bouncing ball has been used in many films and television programs over the years, notably in Mitch Miller's Sing Along with Mitch program (1961–1964)...

Thank you for brightening my day, everyday...

Aug. 03 2010 04:56 PM
John J. Christiano from Franklin NJ

When I worked in the city I used the subways almost exclusively. I never minded the musicians no matter what their caliber. For the price, it was the best show in town. Some of them were really clever and would find a spot where the natural echoes of the space would enhance their sound. They were a welcome relief from the noise, shoving and smells of the netherworld.

Aug. 03 2010 08:08 AM
Michelle from NYC

Guaranteed to put a smile on your face - the 'Saw Lady'. I saw her today at the 34th street station. Did you ever see her? this is her blog where she tells what happens when she plays in the subway:
She plays the musical saw, and if you think subway musicians can't get gigs elsewhere, just check out last Saturday's New York Times - the 'Saw Lady' got an excellent review:
(last paragraph).

Aug. 02 2010 07:20 PM
Ken from Clifton NJ

I Love Annie Bergen in the morning, shes such a true professional.Shes very relaxing to listen tO.
CHEERS Annie I'm a fan

Aug. 02 2010 09:47 AM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

You do remember this?

Jul. 31 2010 07:56 PM
Cindy Legorreta from Union Square

Anyone who despairs of ever hearing anything good down in the subway ought to check out Times Square Station on Thursday - the Ebony Hillbillies are simply wonderful. Though they are folk and bluegrass musicians, they are flat-out superb at what they do - moreover, one member of the ensemble is an accomplished fiddler. And speaking of string sections, anybody heard Sean Grissom, the Cajun cellist? Now this young man IS classically trained, and hot rodded his own invention, a cello with a sort of electric vibe to it. Sean is a joy to hear, and I have several of his CD's. His seamless segues from Mozart to Zydeco are absolute ear candy. Don't miss him! When I make my weekly trip up to visit colleagues at Columbia University, as I head down into the station, I am always 'willing to be surprised." I often am -- and, for the better.

Jul. 31 2010 04:01 PM
Robert Jones

If I dislike the music - or the volume - shouldn't I be able to take money out of the pot as compensation? Some of these musicians take the liberty of turning a subway station into a Rock concert - a loud one.

Jul. 31 2010 12:18 PM
Michael Meltzer

If you are a musician, you are walking aound with an ongoing musical train of thought in your head at almost all times (that's why you had to become a musician in the first place).
Unsolicited outside music is intrusive, it interrupts that train of thought. It had better be good!

Jul. 30 2010 05:24 PM

Naomi - I share your fondness for the mariachi bands, especially the ones that include an accordian player. The riffs are sometimes amazing. If you have only heard "Cielito Lindo" keep riding the # 4 and #5 untill you hear the really good stuff. I guarantee many more smiles and many fewer dollars.

Jul. 30 2010 04:55 PM
Phyllis Sharpe

Of course you pay something, even $1. I think it takes a lot of courage on the part of the "musicians". However, didn't Joshua Bell play in the subways some years ago, and even though his talent had been recognized in music circles, he was not recognized in the subway.
10 years ago I was wandering through the ruins of the St. Andrews Monastery and grave yard. Beyond the wall a bagpiper was playing "Amazing Grace". And yes, I paid the piper.

Jul. 30 2010 04:40 PM
Jack from Brooklyn

i think in the age of ipods and mp3 players people are all too often trapped in their own worlds, to even notice what is going on musically around them. it's sad.

Jul. 30 2010 04:19 PM
Kelsey Shea from Long Island

my own impression, and that of some of my friends, is that there aren't as many live musicians in the subways as there used to be. I wish there were. Maybe it’s because subway music is no longer a novelty, and musicians have moved on to other venues and callings but when I do come upon a "good" street musician, it certainly puts a smile on my face.

Jul. 30 2010 04:15 PM

When I worked in London a busker came around every Thursday afternoon. He was a fine Irish tenor, Our windows were sealed so we gave our half-crowns to the porter and then peered out to make sure they were all transferred properly. One day I was coming back at that time and there were twenty or thirty people, each in their own cubby, peering out. A whole wall of audience.

Jul. 30 2010 04:11 PM
Barry Lenson from Millburn, NJ

A friend and I were walking down the street in New York. We passed a man holding a boom box that was playing some of the most awful music we had ever heard, He had a plate on the sidewalk in front of him, and he was holding a sign that said, "I composed this music. Please help me!" So we put some money in his dish, because if he had composed that music, he REALLY needed some help.

Jul. 30 2010 04:08 PM
Anthony from NYC

Aside from the few talented violin players, I find them to be quite intrusive and disruptive.

Jul. 30 2010 04:05 PM

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