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