Music is Truly Universal.


I find myself using this excuse more times than I’d care to admit. It’s nothing personal – it’s just that when it comes down to it, I really love music.

I love how you can be having a bad day, come across a song whose lyrics completely capture what you’re feeling and come to the conclusion that you may not be alone in what you’re going though.

I love how diverse it is (please tell me I’m not the only one with an iTunes playlist that consists of reggae, country AND hip hop?).

But what do I love most about music? The fact that it’s universal. People can be separated by oceans and language barriers and still be able to connect through their mutual love of a genre, band, album or song.

While I’m not going to act like I never enjoy listening to songs featured on the Billboard Hot 100 (clap along if you feel like Happy by Pharrell is constantly stuck in your head), there is one other place in particular where I find myself enjoying some pretty awesome music.

I’m talking about the subway. That’s right – amid the sounds of train announcements and arrivals, there is an array of performers, each distinct from the other, showcasing their talents for free.

They’re such a big part of the city that there is even an entire Instagram account solely dedicated to videos of their performances!

It is when I’m underground that I am able to experience utterly raw talent at its best. And I’m not alone – here are some New Yorkers expressing their love for the unconventional venue:

Luckily for us, the underground transportation system is an internationally common way of getting around. And with it come an endless supply of subway performers.

For example, there is the London Underground (also known as the Tube).

Interestingly enough, while the first underground line of the New York City subway opened on October 27, 1904, the Tube incorporates the world’s first underground railway, the Metropolitan Railway, which opened on January 10, 1863 (pictured below).

Just like those in New York City, London commuters are exposed to their fair share of subway buskers on the daily.

For example, check out this talented Irish Folk group sharing its awesome music with some lucky strangers:

Videos like this, as well as the reactions posted earlier, go to show just how entertaining subway performers make the otherwise dull and tedious task of commuting.

There is also the subway system found in Paris, France, referred to as Paris Metro (pictured below). It consists of 245 stations on 14 lines and boasts more than 1.5 billion passengers a year. Although these are impressive numbers, they can’t compete with those of New York City’s, whose subway has 468 stations in operation on 24 lines.

Seeing as the City of Lights is in the top five for busiest city-rail services in the world, there are bound to be a ton of musicians eager to showcase their talents underground.

Here is a video of a group  of drummers performing on Platform RER A and B in Chatelet, Paris:

Whenever I come in contact with a subway performer in New York City, I am usually left in awe of his or her talent. Attributing this to pure luck would be a mistake, for those we see filling the underground with the sound of sweet music actually audition in order to be able to do so.

Interestingly enough, this fact is true for all three cities mentioned in this post.

New York City’s “Music Under New York” program involves musicians entering a contest every Spring in order to be assigned to high traffic locations. Presently, more than 350 soloists and groups participate in MUNY providing over 7,500 annual performances at 30 locations throughout the transit system

After a two-year gap from 2008-2010, the London Underground yet again began to hold auditions for busking licenses. Over a three-week period in 2013, 250 people played for a panel of three – sometimes including record company professionals – hoping to join the 250 performers that strive to entertain commuters on the daily.

In regards to the Paris Metro, about 2,000 people apply annually to audition to perform underground. Held in the Spring and Fall, the tryouts are judged by Antoine Naso (an artistic director for the Paris Metro, pictured below), two Metro employees and two members of the public. Of the 300 permits awarded, about half are allocated to veteran badge holders, with the rest going to newcomers.

Here’s a reaction posted to Twitter about the Parisian auditioning process:

All in all, it’s an incredibly comforting feeling to know that no matter what big city I find myself traveling to in the future, I am likely to experience some truly remarkable underground performances.

Here’s to playing music underground never going out of style, for it would truly be a shame.


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