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Subway Musicians Brighten Workday for New Yorkers - 2004-04-15


The subways of New York City are full of melodies. There are musicians in the passageways, mezzanines, and platforms of New York subway stations, playing songs from all over the world and brightening the day for countless New Yorkers on their way to and from work.

This group of musicians from the Andes mountain region of Chile and Peru calls itself Wayno. They play the traditional music of the Andes, using age-old instruments like wooden flutes, guitars, and bells. A variety of musicians, dancers and mimes regularly perform in the subways, playing for tips that help them earn a living while practicing their art.

Jeremiah Lockwood is a professional musician. He performs all over the city, but playing in the subway is an important source of income for him.

"It's a way to make money, and for a musician in New York City you can never have too much of a way to make money from your music," he said.

The members of the band called El Street Cafe have been playing together for four years. The band's rousing mixture of blues and bluegrass usually attracts a big crowd. Passersby stop to listen to a song or two. Sometimes they may even sing along. Lester Schultz, the lead singer and harmonica player of El Street Café, says subway musicians are part of an important tradition of public music.

"[Performing music in public] goes way back, you know, thousands of years, back to Rome, back to Greece, you know. They had people who played in public places back then, and it's really been a tradition for thousands of years."

Elana Berger takes the subway every day. She says she enjoys subway music, and frequently donates money to her favorite musicians.

"I love music, and I like that people just play freely, and sometimes I pick up some CD's down here."

Jennifer Greenberg also rides the subway every day. She said hearing different music from all over the world can be an educational experience.

"I like the fact that there's music," she adds. "I think it's great. I really do, I think that in the subway stations when there's entertainment, it exposes people to things that they wouldn't normally be exposed to."

Natalia Parruz popular subway act. Her music is highly unusual: she uses a saw and a violin bow to produce beautiful, eerie tones that are remarkably like a soprano voice. The saw's melodies mingle with the noise of the busy Times Square station where Natalia usually plays.

Natalia is a professional musician who plays concerts all over the city. However, she says the subway is her favorite venue.

"The subway is my favorite place on earth to play," she said. "First of all, the acoustics are amazing. And second, the people are so nice. You know, when you are on stage, you are up there in the light and the people are down there in the dark and you don't really see them. Here the people are right here, right with you."

On a crowded platform not too far from Natalia's spot, a Chinese man can be seen playing a traditional Chinese instrument, the erhu. His music is constantly interrupted by the roar of passing trains, or the blare of the public announcement system. Few people stop to listen to him, but those who do listen are rewarded, both by the music and by the smile of welcome on the musician's face.

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