Performers audition for spots in New York subways Phil "Felipe" Passantino, leader of the Viva Vallenato Accordion Band, auditions for judges in Grand Central Terminal (AP photos)
Performers audition for spots in New York subways

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It's a rite of spring: performers auditioning for the privilege of doing their thing in grubby, noisy subway stations.

Seventy showed up recently at Grand Central Terminal in New York City, vying for permission to set up their underground acts for tips. They appeared before a jury of musicians and transit employees in the elegant Vanderbilt Hall above the train tracks.

This year's motley musical crew, from countries around the world, will soon find out who won the right to be part of the Music Under New York program run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the nation's biggest mass transit system.

"I always dreamed of arriving in New York City," said Oliver Dagum, a Philippine-born U.S. Air Force sergeant stationed in New Jersey who left the military last week. "I always believed that there's something between me and the city. It's amazing. It's grandiose. I feel uplifted."

He said playing in the subway system is a gauge of how good he is.

"If you're able to convince one or two rushing people to take the time to listen to you, that's the biggest acknowledgment," he said.

Dagum switched his military uniform for a woolen cap and guitar at Grand Central, a long way from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan where he once served. He sang a mellow "Sunday Morning" by Maroon 5.

Drummer Louis Conselatore, an Ivy League law school graduate who worked as an ordained Unitarian minister, played his five-minute stint with two other musicians in his band.

"Two of us are Italians, one of us is Puerto Rican and we're all from New Jersey and we fell in love with Colombian music," said Phil "Felipe" Passantino, the accordionist. "It has a rhythm that's very infectious and makes people dance and laugh. It's a peasant's music, poor people's music that springs from the soul."

Three hundred performers entered the Music Under New York contest months ago to even be selected for the live, six-hour contest. The jury picks about two dozen winners, who'll rake in up to hundreds of dollars a day when they're dispersed at subway spots around the city. It's illegal for unapproved artists to perform in the subway system.

Jacinta Clusellas, a Brooklyn resident from Buenos Aires with a guitar, wore giant blue wings to the audition to reflect a short story by the Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario.

"It's about a man with a brilliant mind who had a hard time expressing himself and he said, 'I have a bluebird trapped inside my head,'" she explained.

The man kills himself, she said, leaving a note that reads, "I leave the door open to let my bluebird fly away."

Clusellas attended Boston's elite Berklee College of Music.

After all, some of New York's finest musicians don't appear at Carnegie Hall. They also practice and practice to get to a subway station.

Critical thinking challenge: Who is New York protecting by making it illegal for unapproved artists to perform in the subway system?

Assigned 5 times

  • CapeleyZ-1
    5/27/2015 - 01:48 p.m.

    This month 70 musicians have auditioned at the Grand Central terminal in New York City to earn the right to play in the underground subway system. It is illegal to play underground for tips unless you get accepted by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. People auditioning have made it through other auditions. These people are real musicians from all different backrounds such as the military or law school. Although this is true some people are trained and have graduated from music schools as big as Berkley. I didn't know you have to audition and i think that it is cool.

  • TaylorHartman-Ste
    5/27/2015 - 01:57 p.m.

    As weird as this article is, I am sure that people would actually make some decent money by doing this. New York is very heavily populated.

  • ShawnaWeiser-Ste
    5/27/2015 - 07:53 p.m.

    I think this is an amazing way to get the community together. I would love to go to New York City to see any of these performers to what they do. I believe it is truly inspiring.

  • 1MadiB
    5/28/2015 - 09:52 a.m.

    Option: Sharing and Explaining your opinion
    I agree with the idea of "hiring" the musicians to play in the subways, otherwise too many people would be playing their music if they didn't have restrictions. These musicians have to work very hard everyday and practice a lot in order to earn their jobs of playing in New York's Subways. All in all, I agree with the fact of people playing instruments in the subways but the new laws they placed are helpful because they can still have the entertainment, just at a limit.
    Madison Buldra
    1st Hour

  • Time-Pav
    5/28/2015 - 09:54 a.m.

    I go into the city a lot on my spare time! I often take the subways and I love listening to the people playing their instruments there. This is really funny!

  • ratiaira
    5/28/2015 - 09:56 a.m.

    that is so cool that the performers are auditioning for subways they will get a lot of attention because there are a lot of people who take the subway daily as a routine

  • evanl-Fit
    5/28/2015 - 11:24 a.m.

    New York is protecting the civilians of the subway from danger by making unlicencsed performers in the subway illegal. They have also made performing in the subway rise to a higher level, as the right to perform becomes desirable. Real performers are now on the trains, not some teen with a boom box. This is a great idea. Washington D. C. should implement this in their Metro system.

  • CharismaM
    5/28/2015 - 01:47 p.m.

    When I visit New York and ride the subways, I enjoy watching the performers. I think they do a great job and that they should be able to continue their performances as long as they don't hurt anyone.

  • GrantW-2
    5/28/2015 - 06:15 p.m.

    This article is about strreet performers trying to impress judges so they will be allowed to sing or dance and etc. on the subway platforms and in the terminals like Grand Central Station. Artist come from all over the world to make it in New York.

  • 3HeidiS
    5/28/2015 - 06:25 p.m.

    my opinion- I think that it is amazing that New York must now audition subway performers. Although there are many talented people in the world,but lots of money can be made in the subway. Playing in such a populated area as New York, it is an honar for people to be able to play in the subway. It is only fair that the talented get first dibs on the subway territory. Subways trap people in a way and people are more or less forced to listen or watch people perform, so why not 'force' them to watch something worth their time to stop and enjoy.

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