Underground Harmonies: Music and Politics in the Subways of New York

By Susie J. Tanenbaum | Go to book overview

5
Music Under New York: Official Sponsorship

In the first part of this book, I described New York City subway music in terms of spontaneous interactions between musicians and riders. Actually, however, musical performances are framed by the MTA Music Under New York program and by TA regulations governing "nontransit use of transit facilities."

Thomas Turino describes frames as "metacommunicative devices that define how social action that takes place within them should be interpreted." When government establishes official performance frames for public spaces and when performers accept those frames as "natural," they are likely to be "as much mechanisms of control as they are liberating." 1 MUNY is an example of this complex process. Part of the MTA's beautification efforts, it marks perhaps the first time in the history of mass transit that government has managed to both embrace subway musicians and impose notions of cultural legitimacy on them.

At the same time, since MUNY bestows special status on its members, it produces tensions, especially in conjunction with the TA rules that frame the entire subway music scene. Transit police officers who are uncertain about the TA rules, for example, often rely on MUNY's extra legitimating force to contain the activities of freelancers. Meanwhile, the populations that encounter musicians daily -- lower-level transit employees and concession stand workers -- have opinions that are hardly accounted for in the MTA program and the TA policies. In the following chapters I analyze the official performance frames and

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Underground Harmonies: Music and Politics in the Subways of New York
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page ii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction - Venturing Down 1
  • Part 1 - Making Music Underground 9
  • 1 - Setting Up 11
  • 2 - The Beat Goes On: History 27
  • 3 - The Partners: Subway Musicians and Their Audiences 48
  • 4 - Boundaries and Bridges: Relationships in Public Space 97
  • Part II - Seeking Harmony Kunderground 123
  • 5 - Music under New York: Official Sponsorship 125
  • 6 - Sounds and Silence: Regulating Subway Music 148
  • 7 - Walking the Beat: Transit Police 170
  • 8 - Music on the Job: Subway Workers 185
  • 9 - Prospects for Change 209
  • Appendix 1 - Subway Homelessness 227
  • Appendix 2 - New York Street Music 234
  • Notes 241
  • Bibliography 255
  • Index 263
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