Brooklyn Boro

Opinions & observations: Musicians, go outdoors, underground and help people lose Covid blues

December 28, 2020 Raanan Geberer

During normal times, there were thousands of opportunities for entertainment or diversion. Movie theaters, live theater, restaurants, clubs and concert venues were all open. Impromptu outdoor performances and subway performers were around and many people enjoyed them, but they were basically incidental. People enjoyed their performances for a while, then moved on.

Now, all of these venues are closed, even restaurants. By and large, the only entertainment people have consists of TV movies, Netflix, Amazon Prime and streamed concerts on YouTube and Zoom.

Given these circumstances, street musicians, outdoor musicians and subway performers take on a new importance. 

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Many musicians are staying busy by giving online concerts, for which people pay a fee. Others are just practicing their instruments, wondering what will happen in the future. Some are undoubtedly in despair.

However, the Brooklyn Eagle, during the summer, carried an article about several musicians who, almost on a whim, decided to perform in Prospect Park. After performing for a while, they noticed a crowd forming. 

A saxophone player in Battery Park, Lower Manhattan. Eagle photo by Raanan Geberer

The response was so positive that they returned the next day, and other musicians joined them. Before long, they were playing every weekend, and the event became, in effect, an unofficial concert that broke up people’s monotony during the coronavirus.

This scenario could and should be repeated all over the city. Maybe playing on city streets would attract unwanted attention, but there are parks and other open spaces, such as the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, the Coney Island Boardwalk, and the Flatbush Malls that were profiled in the Eagle a few months ago. 

Yes, the weather’s cold, and no one expects musicians to perform outdoors when it’s 25 degrees. But one can perform when it’s 45 or 50 degrees outdoors, provided that one is well-dressed. There’s a long tradition of Salvation Army bands playing right before Christmas. Why can’t other bands play, too.

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Playing outdoors, or on your front porch, or wherever could even be a godsend to some musicians. Onlookers will notice you and appreciate you, and this could lead to more opportunities when the COVID-19 pandemic is finally over.

Fairly recently, I visited a small park within walking distance from where I live. There were a few small groups of people on the benches, and few people were interacting with each other, except for one group of young men who were apparently engaged in drug dealing. At the end of the park was one young woman tap-dancing and singing to a jazzed-up recording of “La Vie En Rose,” but no one paid her any attention. The entire scene park had a gray, overcast overtone.

Jacinta Clusellas warms up before auditioning for judges in Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall. AP file photo/Kathy Willens

Now, what would it be like that if instead of that one woman dancing to pre-recorded music, there were two, three or four live musicians playing real instruments. I would bet they would attract attention immediately, and the overall vibe of the park would change, no matter what the weather, from gray and overcast to bright and cheerful.

The same thing goes for musicians underground. Except for people who are totally obsessed with music, like myself, in normal times most busy commuters only pay subway musicians, listening for a short time and maybe giving them some change or a few dollars. However, with no other performances of live music, underground musicians may now get a lot more attention and more promotion.

And here’s a memo to the MTA: reinstate the “Music Under New York” program. There’s no reason why having two or three musicians play in an underground tunnel leading to a subway platform should be a threat to public health, providing that they’re wearing masks. Why should these musicians be any more at risk for transmitting the coronavirus than the large numbers of commuters who pass through these same tunnels every day?


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