So I was playing merrily away at the Red Line Downtown Crossing stop last night, and this Large T Official approached me and said, "You're a little early."
Cue blank innocent look.
"You know you're not supposed to be playing during rush hour."
(what?) "Oh, I didn't know..."
"Yeah, because if there's a station announcement and we have to evacuate the station, all people will be able to hear is you."
The official Subway Performer guidelines state: "The MBTA shall prohibit performers or groups of performers from generating noise levels exceeding the sound level of 80 db(A) measured at a distance of twenty-five feet from the performer or group of performers."
A violin played normally reaches between 60 and 70 decibels, although I do not know at what distance. (Other sources may vary.) Also, if I hear anything other than "Attention passengers, the next Mars-bound train is arriving," I either stop playing or drop way down in volume. If I can hear and understand the announcements with the fiddle right under my ear, I'm sure other people are fine.
I tried to explain this to the Official T Man, who came back with "That's nice, but you're not supposed to play until 6:30. I won't say anything this time, but..."
Now, regardless of the fact that rush hour, which seems to be 7AM-10AM and 4PM-7PM, is the most logical time to play for maximum visibility and income, there is no official rule limiting performing hours. The guidelines do say that performers must leave the station by 11PM or when the station closes, whichever is earlier, and "With reasonable notice to performers, certain Performance Areas may be limited to certain hours in the interest of public safety", but I don't think that being scolded by a T person at random counts as "reasonable notice."
I played for about another twenty minutes, and when I left, the same T official appeared to be harrassing the food vendor.
(Incidentally, in researching this, I found a site declaring, "Henoch points out that a symphony such as Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelungen exceeds 110 decibels at some points." Although there exist many symphonies written for large groups that I'm sure can exceed 110 decibels, The Ring is a cycle of four operas. Epic Germanic operas. With sopranos. My God, are there sopranos.)