Category Archives: music in subways

Welcomed Back to NY with Bach in the Subway

I got back to New York Tuesday night, after a long weekend away for my son’s college graduation, and fell in love with the city all over again. I just love it here.  What can I say?

To save money, I took a shuttle bus (instead of a cab) from LaGuardia to Times Square.  I stood on 42nd St. for a while, just looking at all the lights and people, and was happy.

Then I went down to the subway, and there, on the 1/2/3 platform, was Dale Henderson, the Bach in the Subways cellist, Baching in the subway.  Couldn’t think of a more perfect welcome “home” (as temporary as it may be).  We chatted a bit, in between movements, as I waited for my train. “Any requests?” Dale asked me.  At first I declined, but then I asked for a Gigue (essentially a jig; each of the six Bach Suites ends with one).  Dale played the powerful and stormy D minor, and then my favorite, the one from the D major suite. When Pete, my son, was born, I used to sing Bach Gigues to him in the hospital nursery.  As I was getting in the subway car, Pete was driving home from Grinnell. Dale playing a Gigue for me (and everyone else), right there, was a perfect way to celebrate Pete’s milestone and the start of my final weeks in New York.

I got back to my big corner room. It was a warm night.  I opened all the windows, and turned out the lights so that I could lie in bed without being on display, yet see the lights from the buildings surrounding mine. Very nice.

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Filed under and everything, Bach in the Subways, Bach Suites, Dale Henderson, life in NY, music in subways

Whose way?

“Would you please stop doing that?”

“Sure,” I said, kind of embarrassed. I put my iPhone back in my pocket.

It was about midnight.  The Grand Central 7 (subway) train platform.  He looked to be in his early sixties, ponytailed, jeans and long-sleeved shirt. Playing acoustic guitar, singing with a plaintive, gravelly voice that floated in the arched space, filling the silence, seeping into places in my body I hadn’t realized were there.

Some of the most affecting music in New York is in the subways.  Sure, some of it is awful.  But a surprising amount is incredible.  It can make you want to dance.  Or cry. It’s a miracle to me–the way music blossoms in unexpected places, like wild flowers.

I have this fantasy of making a short film, a montage of video clips, to remember it with when I go back to Indiana. So I usually carry around a small hi-def camera. When something’s great, I film it. That night all I had was my iPhone.

But he didn’t like that. Even though I’d sheepishly put it away, he didn’t resume the music.  He was pissed off.  Stood up, walked over to the tracks, and spit.  Mumbled something about “fucking assholes,” and went back to his seat.

I didn’t know what to do.  Apologize?  Tip him?  A dollar? Twenty?

All sorts of thoughts went through my head.  Hey!  He’s playing in a public space, why shouldn’t anyone be able to film him?  Why should I feel bad? But I know what it’s like to want your privacy, even in a public space. To feel violated, taken for granted.  To be turned into an object, something for a tourist’s Facebook page.

I weighed options, confused. What to do?

The train came.

I got in, and rode away from the dilemma.

Earlier that evening:

We met at, well, I’m not going to say.

It was one of the many bar/restaurant/clubs in New York that present music–jazz groups, pop singers, an occasional classical group, etc.  I hadn’t been there before, and was glad to experience another “alternative” venue.  Alice, I’ll call her, a friend of a friend, had suggested the place and the performance. A young singer. “He does Sinatra!”  So my friend–I’ll call her Jane–arranged for the three of us to go to this show.

But Jane had to work late and couldn’t make it.  Since Jane had bought non-refundable tickets, Alice and I, after almost backing out, both showed up and met there for the first time.  Dave–another friend of Jane, and one I already knew–eventually joined us to use the highly resourceful and well-networked Jane’s ticket. She was not letting that thing go to waste.

The “does Sinatra” guy isn’t an imitator.  He’s had a good career singing songs Frank made popular–kind of like Harry Connick, Jr. when he got his big When Harry Met Sally career bump.  Quite successful, tours a lot, but hasn’t cracked the big time, especially in the U.S.  He’s playing New York, but it’s a small-venue, mid-week early show. Not at a place like Feinstein’s, but a downtown club.

Nothing wrong with that, of course.

“I don’t understand why he’s not as big as Michael Buble!” Alice shared, perplexed.

She’s a fan. She met him after a show a few years ago, and he told her that Fienstein’s is his goal.  (It’s like playing Carnegie Hall for a classical musician.)

Why isn’t he there?

After the show, Dave, who works in the entertainment business, and I went for coffee (Alice got in the autograph line).  We had each had the same answer.

Not-Frank (as I’ll call the singer) is slick and polished,  a tremendously skilled performer.  But his music making felt artificial and calculated.  Raw emotional connection, a sense of human authenticity, those qualities so strong in Sinatra’s singing?  Not there.

And how do I put this?  Not-Frank, while energetic and “masculine” in many ways, also was a touch effeminate.  Perfectly coiffed hair, a pink tie and breast handkerchief.  My gaydar went off big time as soon as he took the stage.  At first I was excited–maybe I was encountering the Rufus Wainright of pop/jazz singers.  But then he made too many jokes and comments about women, including innuendo about the one who opened for him and joined him for duets mid-set.

“Straight guys don’t make that many jokes about doing it with women,” Dave (who is straight) said, putting down his coffee.  “He was trying way too hard.” Whoever Not Frank is, the man he played on stage didn’t hold our attention; each of us had ended up checking email and texts during the show. “Michael Buble is totally himself,” Dave told me.  “This guy is calculated.”

I don’t care who he sleeps with (Google says his girlfriend), or wishes he could sleep with, or who I wish he slept with. I don’t mean the effeminacy thing as a criticism, either–that can be really hot in a guy.

He finished his set with “My Way.”

You can’t sing “My Way,” especially if you’re in your early thirties, and come off as anything other than a kid trying to do it someone else’s way. It’s an old man’s song.  It’s Frank’s song.  “And now the end is near”? Give me a break. Might as well find a way to change the lyrics to “I’m not Frank.”

The coffee place where Dave and I did our post-performance analysis is just across from my daughter’s East Village dorm. She was feeling under the weather and didn’t join us. We finished our coffee.  He went to pick up his wife from a work event, and I went across the street to give a tired and slightly sick girl some daddy time.

We cuddled.  We watched a couple episodes of The Office on Hulu.  I sang her silly songs.  Put her to bed.

On the way home, I changed trains at Grand Central.

Walked down the steps to the 7 platform, and heard that voice and guitar.  There were no trains, few people. The sound gradually enveloped me as I descended.  The ceiling is arched.  When it’s quiet, there’s great reverberation there.  It’s actually a wonderful space for music.

It was everything that Not Frank hadn’t been at the expensive show. Right there in the subway. The miracle, again.

And this guy, this artist, who stopped singing and called me a fucking asshole?

He was doing it his way.

I love New York.

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Filed under alternative venues, and everything, gay issues, life in NY, music in subways, New York life

March 21: Playing Bach in the Subways, to Celebrate Bach’s Birthday

I’m going to play Bach. In a New York City subway station (probably the uptown side of the 1/2/3 96th St. station). On Bach’s birthday–Monday, March 21.  I’ve never played in a subway before, but I’m looking forward to it.

Dale Henderson, the Bach in the Subways cellist, invited me.

You, too, if you’re a musician and going to be in New York. (Here’s Dale’s invitation on Facebook.  He’s also on Twitter.) What a great way to celebrate Bach’s birthday!

Dale Henderson at the 96th St 1/2/3 Subway Station on March 7

A week ago tonight (Monday, March 7), I’d been to that great Tyondai Braxton/Wordless Music Orchestra concert at Tully Scope. I usually walk home from concerts at Lincoln Center–it’s about 26 or 27 blocks, a bit over a mile and a quarter. But I’d stopped at Trader Joe’s and had a bag of groceries, and my personal trainer had really earned his money earlier in the day. I was tired. So I got on the subway, and got off at 96th St.

And, to my surprised delight, there he was. I’d read about him on the Wall Street Journal and CNN sites. He wants to share classical music with as many people as possible, so he plays Bach Suites in subway stations, accepting no money, handing out postcards about the project.

He was playing the Prelude of the C Minor Cello Suite, with love and commitment. I was so excited–I’ve been wanting to meet him and hadn’t gotten around to tracking him down.  Such serendipity–if I hadn’t bought groceries, or wasn’t tired from working out, I would have missed him.

When he finished the Prelude, I introduced himself. We had a great chat, and he told me how he wants to get as many musicians as possible to celebrate Bach’s birthday by playing in a subway station anytime (midnight to 11:59 PM) on Monday, March 21. So of course I said yes–I’ve been wanting to play in the subway, just for fun, and have just been waiting for the weather to clear up.

Then Dale wanted to get back to his Bach, and played the Courante from the G Major Suite, one of my favorites.  He let me take a video with my iPhone (I’m waiting for him to look at it before publicly posting in on YouTube).  Trains came and went, and he kept going.  The movement finished.  As my groceries and I headed home, at the other end of the station I heard the lilting arpeggios of the same suite’s Prelude, which gradually faded as I walked up the steps and into the noise of Broadway on the Upper West Side

(Once I’ve decided when I’ll be playing, I’ll post it here and on Facebook.  If you’re going to play, let me know where and when–I’m going to try and get around with a camera during the day.)

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Filed under alternative classical performance, alternative venues, Bach in the Subways, Bach Suites, cellists, Dale Henderson, music in subways

In the Union Square subway station

One of the delights of visiting New York City is the music one encounters from time to time. I’ve heard fabulous stuff in there. I wish I’d encountered beatboxing flute player Greg Pattillo with Eric Stephenson on cello, filmed here at the Union Square subway in NYC. This is way cool, with great camera work:

Here’s Eric’s bio from the The Project site:

An exceptionally versatile cellist, Eric Stephenson’s style ranges from classical to jazz to rock and folk. He is currently a member of the IRIS Chamber Orchestra in Memphis, Tennessee and the Colorado Music Festival. Eric served as Principal Cellist of the Canton Symphony Orchestra from 2002-2006 and was a regular substitute for the Cleveland Orchestra.

As a fellow at the Aspen Music Festival, he served as Assistant Principal Cello of the Aspen Festival Orchestra from 1999-2004. He has appeared as a soloist with the Cleveland Institute of Music Symphony Orchestra and the National Repertory Orchestra in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Eric earned his Bachelor and Master of Music Degrees with Honors from the Cleveland Institute of Music and was a recipient of the Ellis A. Feiman Award in Cello while a student of Stephen Geber.

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Filed under Eric Stephenson, Greg Pattillo, music in subways, YouTube