20 People Together is a Lot

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January 17, 2011
By Posted in Herald Square Subway Station | 1 Comment »

As I waited for the subway train to take me to my busking spot at 34th street, there were MTA workers taking a break on the platform. One leaned a ladder against the wall. Then I saw what they were doing – new white speakers were placed by the ceiling every 10 feet. This is bad news for buskers – with a new sound system, I hope the MTA won’t start pumping canned music into the stations. This will be the end of live music in the subway. Or, more likely, this will be the beginning of a volume war – buskers will mic themselves and crank up their amps to overpower the streamed-in canned music, the way buskers already do at the LIRR station. I don’t play there because I’m not amplified. But a situation like that would force me to amplify.

subway station

At the Music Under New York busking spot at the 34th street subway station, Juan and a friend were playing ‘My Heart Will Go On’ (theme from ‘Titanic’) on pan-flute and Charango mandolin. We talked about the new speakers in the subway stations.
Juan and his friend were going to busk at Times Square now.

Juan Castillo

As I was about to begin playing, a homeless looking gentleman I often see when I play in the subway came by and introduced me to his grandson, a teenage kid. He wanted his grandson to hear the musical saw.

A gentleman named Wolfgang told me that he translated a book titled ‘Exodus of the Musicians’ by Per Olov Enguist, from Swedish to German. The musical saw is mentioned and discribed thoroughly in this book, he said. In 19th century Sweden lumberjacks played the musical saw. Wolfgang now lives in Provence, France, where it’s very rural. Visiting NYC is a culture shock for him: “For me seeing 20 people together was a lot”, he said. In NYC he is faced with thousands of people everywhere… He is travelling Canada & the USA by Grayhound bus with his 20 year old son, who is into hip-hop and rap music.


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One Response to 20 People Together is a Lot

  1. Joseph on January 21, 2011 at 11:20 pm


    My name is Joseph Baken and I am a 20 year old violin/fiddle player from Montana. I’m moving to NY on Monday on a SHOESTRING budget and I had planned on making busking part of my daily routine, at least until I can find a job.

    Having really no idea where to start however, I would love to shadow you for a day/visit with you on location/or even if you just have some advice to share via e-mail I would really appreciate it. I have a pretty wide repertoire and have been busking here in MT since I was 5. I would love to have someone show me the ropes before getting started in NY so if you have anything to share please don’t hesitate.

    Thanks and happy music making!


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