by Shiran Zhang
Throughout the New York City subway system, there are underground performers who always have fresh stories to tell. If you look closely, you’ll find a child protégé on the piano or some passionate break-dancers. Because there are no age or performance restrictions, the group of performers at any given station is very diverse.
At the Union Square station earlier in August, an older man gazed at his two beloved music players. One was a younger man on the drums, and the other child played alongside him.
They are father-son duo from the Bronx, who played drums made of water buckets. Though there was a crowd of admirers, their biggest fan was the young boy’s grandfather, who lovingly gazed at the two players. Three generations gathered together here, having a lovely time.
“My father was a singer, my uncle was a drummer, so I’ve been doing this stuff since I was five years old. I remember my father and my mother play music in the kitchen when I was young, using every possible tools as instruments,” said the boy’s father with sweat on his face.
“We play music everywhere, subway stations, movies, commercials, Broadway plays…I’ve never had bad times when playing music. I just love it so much!” the father said.
The passion and skill brought by this talented family has touched many passengers, who showed their admiration and made a donation.
“We can earn 150 bucks per day here”, said the father.
“I can earn 11-12 dollar per hour, Once a big boss gives me a $20 bill, I was so freaking happy,” said Yizhou Wu in Chinese with a smile.
Wu was a high school teacher who taught Chinese in Guangzhou, China years ago. He started practicing erhu when he was 13. He immigrated to New York City when he retired and has been playing music underground ever since.
“It’s so great to be one of the New Yorkers. Surprises happen from time to time when I play music!” He pulled something out of his pocket: a thick bunch of $1 bills.
“Strongest proof of my music achievements!” he said.
While many musicians win coveted play informally, music underground spots are given by the N.Y Transit Authority. In order to become part of the official Music Underground Program, under which performances can be legally entertain in the subways, they must pass an audition held every May at Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Terminal. There are about 36 professional music experts to judge the performances. The competition of music underground promotes the arts and music culture of New York City, which has become an inseparable part of New Yorkers’ life.
“Only 20 out of 300 candidates can be selected!” He proudly introduced the challenge of being an underground performer. He was selected in 2008, and kept playing the erhu after.
“I’ve never, ever had bad times playing music, no matter, in the subways.” Both the father on the drum agreed.