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Musicians Vie for Sweet Performance Spots in Transit System

By  Paul DeBenedetto and Tuan Nguyen | May 16, 2012 3:32pm 

GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL — It was a high note for underground music.

An all-female mariachi band, a bluegrass trio and a wind quintet playing songs from popular video games were some of the more than 70 musical acts that took part in the MTA's 25th annual Music Under New York auditions.

Music Under New York, held in Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall, allows the musicians to compete for 25 choice performance locations in the transit system, according to the MTA. The audition drew crowds of tourists and commuters, as each act was given about five minutes to impress a group of 33 judges, made up of musicians, performance artists and MTA officials.

One of those judges was Sandra Bloodworth, director of the MTA's Arts for Transit and Urban Design program. Bloodworth has worked at the MTA for 24 years, and has seen support for the program grow over that time.

Washington Square Winds quintet wait for their turn to perform
Washington Square Winds quintet wait for their turn to perform
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DNAinfo/Tuan Nguyen

"It's just one of the most 'New York' days," Bloodworth said. "It really encapsulates all of the wonderful things about living in New York."

Bloodworth says the judges were looking for acts that fit three criteria: quality, variety and appropriateness.

The musical selection on Wednesday ranged from traditional forms of music, like R&B, folk and jazz, to the more obscure sounds of Leanne Darling's Middle Eastern-funk hybrid.

Darling, of Brooklyn, is a classically trained musician, and uses a viola and a looping device to play improvisational songs that have lasted as long as 17 minutes, she said. Now she wants to bring her music to as broad an audience as possible.

"The music I make on the viola is between musical genres, so it's hard to find a proper performance space," said Darling, 43. "If people are moving around and milling about? Sure, why not."

But Darling acknowledged that her Grand Central performance was a little overwhelming.

"Big room, big crowd, you always get a little nervous," Darling said.

Music Under New York was launched in 1987 as a way to improve the subway experience for riders, according to the MTA.

And although you don't need a license to perform on subway platforms, only Music Under New York performers are allowed to perform in a few select, highly-trafficked areas, like Penn Station and Grand Central.

One of the most well-received acts of the day was 14-year-old classical pianist Jason Cordero. Cordero said he wants to go to Juilliard, and hopes his hard work pays off so he can collect donations for his education and supplies.

"I practice at home. I can practice on the subway, when I delight the people," Cordero said. "It's fun for me to play." 

The winners of the audition will be announced shortly after Memorial Day.