Saturday, November 10, 2007

What fresh hell is this?

So now that T-Radio is gone (and I do have notes from the meeting with Pyramid Radio), they want to install T-TV. If there's no sound, I guess I don't really have much of a problem with it, except for the general offensiveness of having MORE ads shoved in my a busker, it's OK.

This battle, however, was just fought in 1993-1995. Sure, it's been a few years, but many of the same people are still around to fight it this time too.

Hey, MBTA, want to make more money? Try, I don't know, COLLECTING FARES. I can't count the number of people I see get on through the back door at above-ground Green Line stops. There are supposed to be inspectors checking for fare evaders. I saw one once in the past ten months, and I do ride above-ground on the Green Line a couple times a week. I recently rode the commuter rail from West Newton to Worcester, twelve stops, about an hour-long ride, the conductor hanging out in the vestibule where I was sitting...and he never asked me for a fare. People are forever holding Charlie gates for their friends; I see groups of six, eight, ten people going through the gates on one fare.

I don't think the MBTA gets to complain about being broke when they can't or won't enforce the fare collection system they have now.

Monday, October 29, 2007

I have a small friend I see every week. His name is Henry.

Last week, Henry gave me a dollar as usual. Then he asked his mom for more money, and she said she didn't have any, which is absolutely appropriate.

So Henry grabbed her cell phone and tried to give it to me.

I told him thank you, but I already have one.


In other cute child news, one of my six-year-old students came out with "OHmigod..." and proceeded to ramble about something his father had done. As a teacher, I've learned the art of laughing silently.

Friday, October 26, 2007

And in a non T-Radio update, a mother brought her toddler son over to get a closer look at my fiddle; she was explaining it in both English and German. I love tiny polyglots.
This is a comment I left elsewhere in response to someone asking why people would complain about T-Radio, given how noisy the stations already are:

Yeah, T-Radio was approximately 33% ads and inane chatter, and none of the songs ran more than 2:30, 2:45 at the outside, which means a lot of songs just...stopped before they were done. I'm told "Hey There Delilah" was cut off after one verse and one chorus.

As a subway performer, I'm biased against T-Radio on that basis; after sitting and really listening to it for an hour, I hate it because it's crappy radio. A fair percentage of it was just T-Radio promoting itself, and I hope the advertisers didn't pay much for those ads, because if a train came through, both the train noise and the announcement of the train's arrival drowned out the ads. I missed one entire 30 second ad because of train noise. Still don't know who it was for, which makes for very ineffective advertising.


Yes, I sat in Airport Station and listened to T-Radio for an hour with a stopwatch and a pen and paper. I wonder if the musicians they play know that their songs are getting cut short, or if they'd care. "Hey There Delilah" usually clocks in around 3:50 or so, which means they were playing just over half of it. "Umbrella" (ella ella ay ay) shows a timing of 4:15. Mariah Carey's "Hero": 4:21. "When Doves Cry", Prince: 3:47 (radio version, I think). "1000 Miles", Vanessa Carlton: 4:26. As a musician, I find this offensive.

Don't get me wrong; I do understand the concept of a radio edit, but I don't know of any overriding radio philosophy that states that every song must be edited to exactly two-and-a-half minutes, and usually radio edits involve things like fades and cutting extended instrumental passages, not just...stopping.
I just found this in my inbox:


Dear MBTA Customer:

Thank you for taking the time to let us know your thoughts on T-Radio.
As we stated at the launch of this pilot test, MBTA riders would
determine the fate of T-Radio. We have heard from a number of riders on
a wide range of issues including the content and style.

Consequently, as of Thursday, October 25th, T-Radio will be suspended.
While it is suspended, personnel from the MBTA and Pyramid Radio (the
operator of the pilot program) will review and discuss the hundreds of
emails received. Following a sufficient period of consideration, MBTA
staff will present a recommendation on how the comments and suggestions
might be addressed and whether a resumption of the pilot program is

As always, we will continue to try and make your commute better through
various means, and always ask for your feedback.

Thank you again for taking the time to write and have your voice heard.
Its appreciated.


Huzzah! A skirmish is won, although the battle is certainly not over, and the general war has been going on for years and will probably continue for years more. Thank you all for your support; please continue to watch this space for further updates and the field notes I've taken over the past few days.

Why, I'm in such a good mood that I'm not even going to snark that "Its" in the last sentence...oh wait, oops.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lots of T-Radio field notes and analysis to report, but I'm too tired to get into it right now.

I do feel it worth noting, however, that the T-Radio news mentioned repeatedly that Keith Lockhart was coming to conduct the National Anthem tonight, how he was coming back from the set of the new Raiders of the Lost Ark movie and all.

Turns out by "Keith Lockhart", they meant "John Williams." You know, that other, barely-known Pops conductor.


ETA: I'm told that T-Radio did say John Williams later in the day, but I heard them say Keith Lockhart two or three times.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A couple weeks ago, I got a very delicious tip in the form of an apple and some grapes from a nearby farmer's market.

Mind you, they were given to me by a friend, so I knew she hadn't poisoned them or anything. I don't accept unsealed food from strangers...I do appreciate the thought, but there's some weird folks out there.

(OK, there's some weird folks right here, but it's not that kind of weird.)
T-Radio Notes from the Field #2

12PM South Station

There's still a huge fan in the designated performance spot, but no worries; musicians play around the corner from it. However, the fan and the escalator noise drown out the talk on T-Radio; the music is audible, but the lyrics are not. I'm OK with this.

12:25PM Radio seems a little louder now, still can't understand speech.
Man comes up, says I'm "the best thing he's ever heard in the subway."

12:30PM Man comes up, says, "You sound awesome. Great acoustics heah."

1:00PM Woman drops change in my case, says, "That's all I have, I'm sorry, you sound lovely."

1:10PM Woman signs petition, says, "I'm just so angry about this." She's written to the T; I suggest she write to Metro. (That suggestion holds for anyone who's reading this; the T can fudge their feedback, if they choose to. The more letters that appear in Metro, the stronger the case against T-Radio.)

2:00PM Man stops, tells me how his mother used to play violin and piano and made all five of her kids choose one or the other. All his sisters played violin; his daughter and granddaughter play violin. He chose piano. "I'm no Elton John."

Immediately following, another man stops to tell me he plays banjo. This man is a little difficult to understand , and as he talked, he got louder and his body language got emphatic. He wasn't threatening me at all, but one of the guys who cleans the station hovered nearby to make sure I was OK.

2:15PM Finished playing, got on train for Alewife to retrieve car. (No, I don't usually drive to the T, but yesterday, some schedules needed coordinating.)

Summary: It's possible to play in South Station with T-Radio at its current decibel level, but it's much like having someone muttering unintelligibly in your ear while you're trying to give a speech: it can be done, but it's annoying. This does not, of course, speak to the possible annoyance level of people waiting for the train who can hear both the busker and the radio.

I can usually hear the T announcements over my playing, which is good, since if anything's different, I can hear it and stop playing, in case of emergency. Yesterday started out that way, but by half-an-hour in, I couldn't hear the announcements anymore, and my volume didn't change. This could present a safety issue, not to mention a problem for folks who depend on those announcements to hear when the train they need is arriving.

After I'd finished, when I was waiting for the train myself, I still couldn't understand the radio, which begs the question: Why bother having radio at all? I assume this means they'll be turning it up in the future, which would definitely interfere with my busking: remember, I don't use an amp like some musicians need to.
T-Radio Notes from the Field #1

9:30AM Porter Square

An older gentleman drops a dollar in my case and says, "Tell them to screw T-Radio!"
My reply: "We're working on it."

4:30PM Public Garden

A woman signs the petition and says, "It's a terrible idea."


Some musicians, myself included, have hard copies of a petition to stop T-Radio, and there's an online petition here. If you see something, sign something.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

On a non-T related note:

Several people have asked me recently what the difference is between a violin and a fiddle.

Well, nothing. The instrument's the same; it's the style of music that's different. Some fiddlers, especially older ones, hold the violin and bow differently, but a lot of fiddlers hold it classical style.

(In doing an image search for a fiddler, I swear I found a photo of one of my long-ago students, or possibly her sister. Wow. I also found mostly photos from various productions of Fiddler on the Roof, which should come as no particular surprise. Dah dahdahdah dahdahdaaaah! Tradition!)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Metro printed my letter to the editor yesterday.

Well, let me clarify: Metro printed a hatchet job of my letter to the editor yesterday. I wrote all the sentences that appeared, but they were in a different order, and there were transitions.

I suppose this is what I get for being optimistic that they'd publish it as an editorial; I should have sent a 100-word version as well.

Anyway, here is the original text of my letter:

I am a busker, a street musician. Like many other musicians in Boston, I spend a great deal of my time playing on subway platforms. Sure, it’s physically and mentally tiring playing an instrument for six to eight hours a day, but I’m happy to be able to brighten the T stations with my music.

Apparently, the management of the MBTA does not consider the subway performers to be sufficient entertainment. They have piloted a program called T-Radio, which will play constant music, news, sports and commercials at T riders, and they will pilot it at two of the most popular stations for subway musicians, North Station and South Station.

The buskers have been blindsided. None of us were informed of this, much less consulted for our opinion. Since we all have paid permits, the MBTA has a record of everyone’s name and address to contact us.

Musicians can’t perform while the radio is playing. Winter is coming, so I can’t go outside. T-Radio will remove a substantial portion of my income that I need for luxuries like food.

And yet, the financial aspect isn’t the worst of it. The worst thing about T-Radio is that it continues the dehumanization of riding the subway. T-Radio won’t smile at you in the morning. T-Radio will never remember you, no matter how many times you listen to it. T-Radio won’t play “Pop Goes the Weasel” for your child. T-Radio won’t take requests, won’t answer questions about its music, and you can’t hire it for your wedding. I do all these things and more.

Dan Grabauskas was quoted in Metro as saying, “"I think the performers in our stations add life, color and richness to the MBTA system." Mr. Grabauskas, I couldn't agree more. But if that's really how you feel, why are you drowning us out? I would like to issue you an invitation spend even an hour with me watching your subway riders and their reactions to my music. I’ve seen the grouchiest-looking people crack a smile and wave to me. I don't think people are going to be smiling and waving at T-Radio.

T riders, please support live music and local artists. Call the MBTA customer service line at (617) 222-3200; go to the MBTA website to send feedback; let the T know that you want to keep your subway musicians.


This is a much stronger letter. Anybody have any thoughts on how I can get more eyeballs on it?

Also, we all know the T feedback system is iffy at best. Please consider writing/e-mailing the papers (Globe, Herald, Metro, BostonNOW); contact your legislators (if appropriate); if you see a petition, sign it; just talk to people and help spread the word. Work is being done feverishly behind the scenes right now, but we need to keep this in people's minds from now until Thanksgiving, when the final decision will be made.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dan Grabauskas, General Manager of the MBTA, was paraphrased in today's Metro as "saying T-Radio isn't meant to replace live performances and that the T has considered featuring those performers on the radio to give them greater exposure."

Let's think about this for a moment, shall we?

1) If radio is playing, there can't be live performances. It just doesn't work. If there's some way for buskers to go ask T people to turn off the radio when we're playing, that would be fine, but I doubt there's any protocol in place for that yet.

2) Does Mr. Dan think all subway musicians are singer-songwriters with the mic and the guitar and the whatsits? Some are. Some are very very good. Many of us aren't singer-songwriters, and no matter how good we are, we don't have CDs and our music isn't going to go with the T-Radio concept. How are a flute playing Bach, a cello playing some twentieth-century composition, a fiddle playing Orange Blossom Special and an urdu...urduing...supposed to fit in with Bryan Adams and Rihanna?

Here's another quote from our man Dan in the Metro:

"I think the performers in our stations add life, color and richness to the MBTA system."

I couldn't agree more. So if that's really how he feels, why is he drowning us out?

I'd like to invite him to spend even an hour with me watching people and their reactions to me. Sure, a lot of them ignore me, but I get plenty of smiles and waves, even from people who don't tip me. I don't think people are going to be smiling and waving at T-Radio.
T Radio update (I meant to post the preceding post last night, but I didn't).

I was not at either North or South Stations today, so I still haven't heard it for myself. However, here is what I did today so far:

1) Called Transit Realty Associates (TRA), the organization that handles the permits. The woman I spoke to had no idea what I was talking about, hadn't heard of T radio, and said there's nothing they can do. So us buskers give them money why? I'm planning to call back tomorrow and see if I can talk to whoever actually does the permit issuing.

2) Called the T's customer service line (that's (617) 222-3200) and talked to a nice lady who, unsurprisingly, ALSO hadn't heard of T radio but who was sympathetic and said she would put in a complaint.

3) Called the Metro (the free daily paper) to see if they'd accept an editorial from me. Left a message. Will write it regardless of their answer.

For a current view of this situation and a history of buskers vs. Boston authoritahs, go here.

I've spoken to a couple of my regular listeners and told them what was up and asked them to contact the T. They said they would; who knows...I think the woman with the two-year-old who adores me probably will.

I sent the following feedback to the T:

As a subway musician, I am very concerned about this program and the effect it will have on those performers, such as myself, who are trying to make a living sharing our music with others. North Station and South Station are, due to their traffic volume, two of the best stations at which to play. Losing those venues would be bad enough; if T Radio ends up playing through the entire subway system, then that's the death knell for live music in the T and another expression of creativity will be silenced. I have always received a positive response from people; some of them miss me when I'm gone for a couple of weeks, and many have told me I've made their commute better.

I don't understand why this is being piloted when there's already music in many stations, and I definitely don't understand why none of the musicians affected were notified, since all our names and addresses are on file at the Transit Realty Authority, who manages the Subway Performers Program.

Please reconsider this idea. Thank you.

I'm furious.

These are the times that try men's souls. In the course of our nation's history, the people of Boston have rallied bravely whenever the rights of men have been threatened. Today, a new crisis has arisen. The Metropolitan Transit Authority, better known as the M.T.A., is attempting to levy a burdensome tax on the population in the form of a subway fare increase*. Citizens, hear me out! This could happen to you!


*For "subway fare increase", read "T Radio."

This will be commerical radio that's piped into the stations. All the time.

Here is the MBTA's press release.

I'm a subway musician. If there's radio, I can't do my job, and right now, they're piloting this in two of the busiest and most lucrative stations in the system (North Station and South Station for those of you who don't care for the linkage). The T did this without running it by any subway performers, and opposition is mobilizing, but it takes time.

Here is the beginning of the opposition, being organized by Stephen Baird.

Please, if you're local to Boston and you care at all, please contact the T and tell them this is a horrible idea that you do not want. Even if you don't like buskers, think about having bad radio blasted at you ALL THE TIME. At least now there's a chance you can wait in peace if there isn't anyone busking; T Radio will never leave you alone. Ever.

Customer service for the MBTA is (617) 222-3200. You might need to do some explaining, since the folks who are answering the phone aren't quite familiar with T Radio. Or the Subway Performer's Program. I'll be calling the agency that actually manages the Subway Performer's Program tomorrow and seeing if they even know about this.

Please also spread the word.

Now you citizens of Boston, don't you think it's a scandal?

Monday, October 01, 2007

I've found a nice spot to play on the Common just across from the State House. This will only last as long as the weather be good, but I like to think some of the folks rushing by in their suits and heels are legislators who might be disposed to think kindly of the arts occasionally.

The other day, I ended up partially surrounded by a school group of, I'd guess fifth- or sixth-graders eating lunch on the lawn. After they were done, one little girl came up and said, "If I had any money, I'd give you some." Awww.
I had the honor of playing for the Massachusetts Alzheimer's Association's Memory Walk 2007 yesterday. I had my case open to display a "GO WALKERS" sign, and a couple people tipped me. I gave the money to one of the volunteers there because I just didn't feel right accepting money for a volunteer gig, especially for such a good cause. No, I wouldn't volunteer for a bad cause. That's not the point.

Also, Elmo was there. Yes, the red fuzzy one. He's much taller than he looks on TV.

Monday, September 24, 2007

I was playing in the Public Garden with some new friends when an adorable little redheaded two-year-old girl toddled up and dropped a dollar in the basket. The mandolin player told her "thank you", to which she replied "THANK YOU!" and started bowing. Of course we all laughed; of course this made her bow more. She's ready for her closeup, Mr. deMille.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Dear Any-of-a-Number-of-Couples,

Yes, I'm playing something slow and sappy. Yes, I know you're deeply in love. No, this is not your cue to start making out ten feet in front of me. Stop that. And watch where you're slow dancing, there's a train coming.


The Fiddler

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Unforeseen Occupational Hazard:

Today, a pug drooled on my foot.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A lovely day to busk in the Public Garden. The temperature differential between the sun being out and the sun being behind clouds was surprising. I couldn't get my preferred spot by the Swan Boats, since there was an electric guitarist at the entrance to the garden and an accordianist on the world's smallest suspension bridge.

I overheard one woman talking to her companions, as they were trying to lure a squirrel closer. She said, "When you really look at them, they're not all that cute."

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Fiddler knows no seasons. If a small blonde girl asks me to play "Jingle Bells" in April, that's fine by me.

It certainly seemed seasonal at the time, as it was pre-heat wave, by which I mean 'round about last Thursday.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

And it was about four or five months later that the Fiddler...remember the Fiddler?...this is a blog about the Fiddler.

I have been mostly on busking hiatus for a while, but now that spring seems to be springing, and we've sprung forward, and I've been drinking more Poland Spring water, I intend to start up again, and this blog will start again with me.

In an ideal world, of course.

For now, here is an anecdote from sometime around December.

So there I am in South Station, like a good little busker, when some
guy comes and stands at the bottom of the stairs holding a "HOMELESS

I'm not really familiar with panhandling etiquette, but I'm pretty
sure that was extremely rude. It's not as though there's any way he
could have failed to notice me. Especially since he got more money in
five minutes than I did in the previous half-hour, but that's not the

I had no idea what to say, so I just finished my set and left. I'm
sure he needed the money more than I did.