On public service

Who, you ask, is the least appreciated, most important worker in the NY subway? The dutiful train driver? The tireless custodian?  Or perhaps the dedicated musician?

But no! It is the humble Welch’s fruit-snack seller. And here’s why:

I have some days — perhaps you do too — where I feel so exhausted on the train that I fear never making it back to my apartment. And always, just at that moment, I am saved: for a kid shows up with a box of Welch’s fruit snacks for $1. Praise and honor him, citizens, for he serves the public good.

Yesterday, when I played at Lorimer St., I happened to set up next to one of these anonymous heroes, who must have been about 13. I asked him how he likes the job, and it turns out that we make about the same amount per day. (Though he keeps longer hours than I could with the violin!)

I launched a tune after that. And what do you know: when the train arrived, he came over and put a dollar in my case. Every once in a while, a dollar bill does kind of move you. Subway, don’t ever change!

Busking log 7/07: White dudes who fiddle

Sunday is typically a slow day in the subway, but today I nonetheless ventured into my shark-infested concert hall, where a few audience members were already bobbing around my cove:

he never bites, except for the smallest children

81st St is a great station on weekends, since it sees a steady stream of museum visitors headed back downtown in the afternoons. Plus, the B train only runs weekdays — meaning Saturday and Sunday offer extra-long lulls between the screeches of the MTA’s apparently never-maintained brakes.

I had hardly been there ten minutes before a guy came up, holding a violin case, and said he played fiddle. “Which kinds,” I asked. “All kinds!” Having thusly established our shared repertoire, he popped open his case, and we shared a pretty solid set of tunes. It turns out that my new pal, whose name is Douglas, acts, performs, and sings in New York, and has some experience working in the subway as well. You can check out his site here!

Although Douglas had to hurry off to a gig, I kept having a great time at 81st, playing some good tunes and explaining the absence of the B train to visitors from several of Europe’s finest countries.

After two hours, I was feeling pretty played-out and took off for home. By the 14th St transfer to the L, my mind was already more on finding sustenance than on music. But lo and behold: as I stepped of our train, I saw a violinist killing Bach’s fugue in G minor across the platform.

Having previously thought myself the owner of the subway G minor fugue market, I hurried over to check it out. Turns out it was none other than Filip Pogády, violinist extraodinaire, who I had met last summer after he watched me perform at 81st St.

He’s been very active with a burgeoning solo career, but is still finding time to perform underground as well. MTA riders have lots to complain about, but read this guy’s bio — low-quality violin concerts is one problem they don’t have!

Just a good reminder that, while Joshua Bell may only have played that one time, there’s a broad base of serious talent in the subway. So keep your ears peeled!

Busking log 7/05: The Passion According to G.H.

Today was a great day for busking. A bit hot, but that didn’t stop me from making the princely (relatively speaking!) sum of $98 in the afternoon.

Oh, and look what else I received: a novel by the highly-acclaimed Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector.

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It appeared in my case on the 86th St express platform. Curious! I didn’t see the donor, but he or she must have excellent taste in literature. I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

Tomorrow I’ll be helping Milo screen-print our sample run of seven “Music is Legal!” t-shirts. Stay tuned for photos!

Busking log 7/03: A real instrument indeed

Today, I finally got to meet New York’s famous saw lady, Natalia Paruz, as she was performing at Herald Square. What a sound! I ate a falafel sandwich a few feet away while listening to her: and lo, this sandwich has now been immortalized in a thousand tourist pictures.

Speaking of less-known instruments, I also listened to an erhu player at the Natural History Museum. He was surrounded by a group from a kids summer program, all wearing matching yellow “Creative Arts” t-shirts and listening intently.

When we got in the downtown B train, I asked the school group if they knew what instrument the man had been playing. One reflected deeply, then said: “Well, it’s not a real instrument.” Oh no!

Fortunately, I know enough about the erhu to be able to give them a quick run-down — where it’s from, how it’s played, how important an instrument it is. They were interested to hear that the songs being performed probably have a lengthy history, just like Western classical music. Remember, New York: learning happens in the subway, too!

Busking log 7/2: the best of NYC

I took yesterday off from busking, which freed up the time to see a friend from Bard, visit Milo in his studio, and go on a massive donut binge. All worthwhile things.

Sometimes it’s hard to transition back into busking, but today wasn’t that day. Two stories about the kind of audience members I wish were more common:

  1. A family visiting from Colombia listened raptly to a whole sonata movement at 81st St. Then they asked to take a photo together with me, and we had a little chat in Spanish. If only all visitors to New York had as much time for the people as they do for the sights!
  2. I don’t usually have the chance talk to other people in the train, although I see them taking notice of the violin case and the stool.  Manhattanites just don’t seem very interested in hearing my side of the story. But on the downtown C train today, I had the nicest conversation about busking with my seatmate — a woman in her sixties — as though it were the most normal thing in the world that I was counting through a big heap of $1 bills. Thanks, stranger — I’ll see you around. For now, I’m psyched to go back out tomorrow!

In other news, you can now sign up for our mailing list on the contact page. Please do — especially the buskers among you! The time will come when we have to spread news around fast, and though I love seeing you all around in the subway, well, it’s just not the quickest way to spread the word…

Busking log 6/27: of arresting officers and subway contra

So, for the first busking log of the season, a couple interesting stories:

  1. Walking up Sixth Avenue, I saw my arresting officer from June 18th in uniform in front of a bank. (Hopefully no violinists do their banking there). I gave him a wave, he gave me a shrug, and life went on as usual. I don’t stay up nights hoping that he learned something from the arrest, but I would love to see him get into a subway performance someday.
  2. I’ve been making an effort to add a few new stations to my performance list. The target for the day was the 49th St. NQR, but due to an unfortunate fecal situation on the platform, it had to be abandoned. (Human? Canine? I’ll never know).
  3. In any case, I wound up at the 42nd St. BDFM at rush hour. It’s a two-platform, four-train station, and seemed a bit overwhelming. I skipped Bach and went right for New England tunes with a big grin, trying to imaging that everyone in the muggy, crowded station was participating in a vast, underground hey for four. (Allemand left, ladies chain, and stand clear of the closing doors!) The tunes worked to crack $20/hour — probably better if I go after rush hour. And they really generated some smiles among the audience.  See you soon for more commuter contra, 42nd!