Music adds to rhythm of subway

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NEW YORK

Ahh, the sounds of the subway. Trains rolling in and out of stations, service announcements over the speakers, the rushing footsteps of commuters.

And now a washboard? Yup, if Fred Gillen Jr. has his way.

Mr. Gillen and his friend Matt Turk were among dozens of musicians and performers who made their way to Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall to audition for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Music Under New York program.

While plenty of people toot horns or sing their way through the system, only about 100 or so acts are officially recognized by the MTA, getting prime performing spaces in some of the busiest stations. Every year, about 20 spaces open up on the roster, so auditions are held to fill them.

Recent auditions, of about 70 performers taken from 200 submissions, covered a musical range from folk rock to electric violin.

Mr. Gillen used a brush and a marker to play his washboard as Mr. Turk strummed the guitar. The friends, both music professionals, look to the subway to provide a new experience.

“You get an opportunity to be spontaneous and catch people who are not looking for you but yet all of a sudden are right there in front of you,” Mr. Turk said.

Banks Harris of Brooklyn, 16, skipped school with Kane Dulaney Balser, also 16, for the chance to audition in front of more than two dozen judges, impressing many with her deep, powerful singing voice.

The two sought the official sanction for subway playing.

“We’ve done it before, but we’d feel better if we had a permit,” Kane said.

Although they have made some money doing it, Banks said, the main draw was the chance to perform.

“It’s the greatest audience,” she said.

The program, started as a pilot in 1985, is part of the MTA’s Arts for Transit, which also places visual art in the subway system. Music Under New York organizes more than 150 performances a week at 25 locations, including Grand Central Terminal, Pennsylvania Station and the subway stations at Times Square and Union Square. The roster includes everything from a barbershop quartet to a mime.

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