Musicians, from opera to blues, seek to play New York subways

NEW YORK (Reuters) - It may not be the lights of Broadway but subway stations aren’t a bad gig either, according to scores of musicians who auditioned on Tuesday to play in New York City’s bustling underground terminals.

Musicians line-up in Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall to take part in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) 28th annual auditions for Music Under New York in Midtown Manhattan May 19, 2015. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

The auditions, attracting players of classical music, cabaret, opera, blues, reggae and even cartoon tunes, are hosted by the city’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to select performers allowed to play, or busk, in subway stations from Times Square to Yankee Stadium.

The conditions may be raw and the acoustics tricky, but the underground venue is like no other, the striving musicians said.

“It’s a direct link into people’s everyday lives,” said Sebastian Lopez, 27, an accordion player auditioning with his pan-Latin band Yotoco.

“It’s a way to share our music with people in a very casual environment and kind of surprise them as they’re going about their daily lives,” he said.

A panel of artists, transit officials and others judge the music for quality, variety and appropriateness, the MTA said. About 70 musicians or groups tried out and a third of them will get picked, it said.

While musicians are allowed to play in the city subways if they follow MTA rules, these winners get choice spots and support from the MTA’s Music Under New York program.

“I’m excited about the exposure that it would allow us to have, meeting new people and finding new places to perform,” said Judy Minkoff, 36, the leader of an all-female a cappella group called Stiletta.

New Yorkers get the benefit of good music, said Gregory Morgan, a 35-year-old drummer with the Sunnyside Social Club jazz band. Average weekday ridership on the subway system is 5.6 million, according to the MTA.

“The world needs more good food and good music. When you have those two, everyone’s happy,” Morgan said.

Jazz vocalist Frank Senior, a blind musician waiting to audition with his guide dog at his side, said performing in the subways is something he has always wanted to do.

“It’s a good way to spread love, spread some positivity around the city,” the 62-year-old said.

Musicians said they could not estimate how much they might make. Participating in Music Under New York is free.

“In my experience with busking, the less you think about the money, the better you do,” Morgan said. “You just put your heart and soul into it and hopefully people will respond.”

Editing by Doina Chiacu