Music in the Subways
Michelle Accorso & Pola Rosen, Ed.D.
was 9:30 am, a bit past the morning crush of riders heading to
work on a typical day in New York City. At the downtown platform
of 86th Street and Lexington Avenue, Richard Mirayes, playing
acoustical guitar and singing to the admiration of some passers-by,
was impervious to the screeching of the trains. Trained at Santa
Monica College, he started lessons at the age of 8 and by age
12 was playing drums in bands. At age 14, he began to record and
sing in the background to Frankie Valle.
subway is the only place to practice where people don’t bang on
the walls,” smiled Mirayes. The money helps to pay for studio
time for students and strings, which he changes twice a week.
When asked about difficulties with the work, he instead discussed
the perks of the subway musician. He gets a brand new audience
every 4 minutes and more breaks than with a union job. I’m happy
“if I can make people forget that they’re in a rat infested subway,
so crowded with people.” In about 4 hours, Mirayes makes about
$70. On a weekend with tourists coming by, he makes about $125
for 5-6 hours of work. He’s never had a problem. People are very
cooperative, he says. His favorite song: Take It to the Limit.
We met Steven Clark at the 34th Street Station. A performer for
17 years, he learned on his own starting at the age of 6, while
in the Chicago public schools. “Sometimes I go to Times Square;
sometimes I’m outdoors at Yankee Stadium. I feel the spirit behind
me and I love entertaining,” said Clark. He works 5-7 days per
week and makes about $200-300 per day. One of the problems he
has faced is going to jail for begging. He was held overnight
and fined $50. A high moment in his life was when a woman noticed
he was feeling ill and gave him $50. His role model and inspiration
is Michael Jackson.
Mack, a vocalist at 42nd Street started singing as a little kid.
For the past 10 years, he’s been in the subways. He’s part of
the MTA Arts for Transit. You call them, he explained and request
a site. You can work 3 days per week for about 3 hours. “I make
about $20,” he said. His favorite musician is Sam Cook.
At 14th street we met Eric Lino and David Murph on the flute and
Jimboy on the bongos. The music was jazz and calypso, popular
songs. “Smiles on people’s faces and little kids that love us,
that makes us feel good,” the musicians said. They play from 3-8
hours. The worst thing that ever happened was having their equipment
impounded before they signed with Music in New York. John Coltrain
has been the greatest influence in their music.
In another corner of 14th Street (the station is a large hub for
many trains to different boroughs), Sixto Masaquaya, was playing
the music of Ecuador that he learned on his own. Only 2 years
in the subways of the United States, he was wearing the poncho
of his small, native town and playing an instrument called Canacho
Quimacho Ouena Zompona, which is made of bamboo. While conversing
with him in Spanish, he said a low point was when he was arrested;
a high point of playing was seeing the emotion that his music
evoked, seeing people cry.
The next time you pass subway musicians, think of the love of
music that they have and want to share with the public, despite
the din and roar of the trains. Their music brightens a gray,
underground place. Isn’t it worth a little spare change?#
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