Music Students Hit Jackpot in Subway Stations
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Students in the music program at La Guardia High School have recently taken to New York’s streets and subway stations, where they’re earning big bucks showcasing their talent to an adoring public.
After playing only a few bars of music on her violin, Blanca Gonzales, a 17-year-old junior from Forest Hills, captivated a platform full of subway riders waiting for the 1, 2, and 3 trains at Times Square. Maria Im, 16-year-old junior from Woodside who plays the violin, stood close by and held a music stand – a break from her usual role as a solo subterranean violinist.
The two are certainly making more than the minimum wage: They each have collected as much as $120 an hour, though earnings fluctuate with the weather. “When it’s hot, people are less likely to stand around and listen to us,” Ms. Im said. Ms. Gonzales started playing for money two years ago, and has since made between $1,000 and $2,000.
Since the start of summer, La Guardia students have used street corners and subway stops as makeshift stages in order to earn some extra cash. “Making money on the street is a new trend at school this year,” Ms. Im said. The students mainly use the money to pay for summer music camp.
“It’s like being independent without having a job,” Ms. Im said. “It’s so much better than working at McDonald’s or Starbucks.”
This summer, Ms. Gonzales will attend the Green Mountain Suzuki Institute in Burlington, Vt., and Ms. Im will attend the Encore School for Strings in Hudson, Ohio. The programs cost about $5,000.
The extra money also pays for music accessories and gives the students a little financial freedom. Among the pieces that earn Ms. Gonzales her fast cash are “Introduction and Tarantello,” “Paganini No. 5,” and “Paganini No. 15,” which she said are all pieces that “require virtuosity and talent,” though she added, “I don’t play them very well.”
“She’s being humble,” Ms. Im said. “Every professional player has those pieces in their repertoires.” Ms. Gonzales said she mastered the pieces last year.
It’s easy to see that both girls have highly trained musical backgrounds. In addition to lessons at La Guardia, Ms. Gonzales, who has played for 13 years, attends Mannes School of Music. Ms. Im, who has played for seven years, takes private lessons from instructor Michelle Kim. They play for subway and street audiences almost every other day: “Whenever we have our instruments and we’re in the mood.” Ms. Im said.
The MTA does not restrict artists from performing in the subway or require them to obtain permits, an MTA spokeswoman, Mercedes Padilla, said. “It’s a public place and we promote free speech as long as they don’t interfere with public safety,” she said.