Music Under NY Audition – the real Subway Idol


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May 15, 2007
By Posted in Music Under New York | 2 Comments »

Today Music Under New York held its annual audition for people who wish to receive permits to perform in the NYC subway.
I joined Music Under NY years ago, after having received many tickets from the police for freelancing in the subway (meaning playing music in the NYC subway without a permit). Most tickets were for $25 but the ticket that pushed me to audition for Music Under NY was for $150…! It was given to me by an undercover police lady while I was playing on the 1/2/3 trains platform at Times Square. There were two other musicians on that platform and they didn’t get a ticket. I asked the police lady how come I was getting a ticket and not them too, and she said that she is giving me a ticket neither for playing too loud nor for blocking the way, but because I play a saw… and the teeth of the saw are a weapon…!
That’s when I decided I needed to become part of Music Under NY.

When I auditioned I was very surprised to discover it was a huge affair. I didn’t expect there to be 20 judges and so much media. My audition was filmed and broadcasted on a few TV channels (FOX5 News, ABC News, etc.) and reported upon in several newspapers. It was wild.

MUNY audition 2007
Judges at the MUNY audition

At first it was difficult for me to make the transaction from being a freelancer to being a permitted subway performer. As a member of Music Under NY you have to remember to call the office every two weeks to schedule your performances in advance. You are also limitted to choosing spots from the roster that the MTA picked up for music.
But the longer I was with Music Under NY the more I appreciated their support.
Having a spot waiting for me is such great help – as a freelancer I used to waste sometimes a whole hour on just trying to get a vacant spot. I would arrive at a spot and there would already be somebody there. I would go to another location, and again there would already be someone there, and so on. With a Music Under NY permit a spot is reserved for you. What a blessing!

Another huge benefit is the support Music Under NY gives musicians in dealing with the police.
Music Under NY is run by wonderful, caring people, who have the musician’s close to their hearts. They are always there for us and they turned the organization into a family. I am so grateful to be a member of Music Under NY!

For many years now I have been helping out at the annual auditions. A few years ago I was one of the judges at the audition, but I much prefare working the ‘Welcome table’, as I have been doing for many years now. The ‘Welcome table’ is the first thing anybody arriving at the audition sees. I register the musicians who are auditioning and answer any questions they might have. I also register the press people, and answer questions from general public. It’s a lot of fun because I get to meet many people.

MUNY audition 2007
I’m working the ‘Welcome Table’ at the MUNY audition

The audition is a fun thing to be a part of – there is an excitment in the air, lots of energy, cameradery and good music.
All the people working at the auditions as ushers are subway musicians who are long time members of Music Under NY.

This year one of the people auditioning was Geovani, the South American musician who has already been playing in the subway as a freelancer for many years. He plays classical music as well as traditional Andean music on an Andean instrument which looks like a mandolin. He is very good, and a real nice person – I really hope he gets in.

There were many singer/songwriters and bands, of course, but also tap dancers, an Elvis impersonator, a classical cellist, an erhu duo, a Chinese instruments’ ensemble, a kora player (African instrument), beat-box flute, etc. A very ecclectic mix of nationalities, instruments and different types of music. There was also a guy dancing with a doll – he is a student of Julio who has been dancing with his doll Pepita in the subway for many years.

MUNY audition 2007
musicians auditioning for MUNY at Grand Central Station

Before the audition started Amos, the Coney Island singer (he has been playing in the Coney Island subway station for many years and he is a MUNY member) performed for passers by. He does that every year for the audition. But this year we also had MUNY performers provide entertainment during the lunch break. Vongu Pak the Korean drum dancer performed, as did Sean Grissom on cajun cello and some other MUNY musicians.

Weirdest thing that happened at the audition:
A bat was flying close to the floor! At first someone thought it was a rat, but then it was obvious it had wings… One of the girls auditioning caught the bat in a jar… Then one guy said the bat was his pet… The girl who caught the bat and the guy went outside to free the bat and see if he would follow the guy…

This year was a special audition because it was the 20th annual audition. The MTA’s CEO Elliot Sander stopped at the audition. He shook my hand and talked with me briefly on his way to making a short speech. He said: “Music is a wonderful part of the subway experience and we are pleased that performers are joining MUNY to offer an attractive environment to millions of MTA customers. Since 1987, MUNY auditions have offered the opportunity to expand the music program that enhances the quality of traveling to all New Yorkers using the transit system.”

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2 Responses to Music Under NY Audition – the real Subway Idol

  1. David on March 5, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    I wonder what would happen though if all of the musicians were held to some kind of standard to be able to play the subways. I enjoy the unexpected and strange performance down there, the odd, the inventive, the ones that really feel like people getting up and hoofing it down there to give it a shot. It takes something away from it knowing there’s another committee deciding what’s good. sad really, and somehow not NYC. I do like your performances though.

  2. Coque on December 12, 2010 at 2:03 am

    Hi! I have read all your experience with the MUNY and i would like to take the audition for the next spring. I am a singer/songwriter from Spain, but I have doubts about the Visa. Do you need a special visa for that? Thank you!

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