Hundreds of musicians, poets and mimes auditioned to win a coveted spot in MTA subway stations where the acoustics are organic and hooking an audience of harried commuters can be challenging.
A 30-judge panel Wednesday evaluated the tryouts, voting who would earn a chance to entertain New York City train riders: an a cappella group with a hip-hop sound; or a guitarist who transforms an acoustic guitar into an Indian sitar; or a four-piece band with a Celtic Spanish bagpipe accompanied by a soft electric guitar samba swing.
“We look for a variety of talent that is respectful, not too loud and is entertaining and calming,” said Rich Campbell, a judge who listened to 70 acts that competed in the 29th annual MTA Music Under New York Auditions at Vanderbilt Hall inside Grand Central Terminal.
“It’s a dream for these artists who are looking for an audience, to make a little money for their tip jar, and a chance for them to share their music and culture with the rest of us,” Campbell said. The volunteer judges vetted the talent from the tri-state area for its professional quality and originality.
“I love to play for people,” said Anil Salem, 20, a biology major at the College of New Jersey in Ewing Township. “My grandfather played the sitar and I like the music. But I also fuse it with Celtic music,” said Salem, who uses the guitar’s body to drum out a beat, and a cigar box he steps on to give his original renditions a natural percussion rhythm.
Melissa Jordano, 24, of Stony Brook, said her a cappella pop group “Backtrack” melds a “contemporary hip-hop sound that has high energy beat boxing.”
“This is a good way to see how audiences response to our music,” said Spencer Knight, 24, of Manhattan, whose vocals imitate an electronic sound synthesizer for the four-member a cappella group.
The Frank Senior Quartet offers Jazz standards. Born and raised in Harlem, Senior, 63, is a longtime nightclub singer. He is transitioning his voice to Jazz with an ensemble of musicians from Japan, Denmark and Australia. Blind since birth, Senior said: “I am more soul. But I am also a man open to all people and these guys know how to party,” said Senior, whose interpretation of “Misty” lulled the audience into a stillness.
The Carlos Casado Project introduces Spanish folkloric music played with a bagpipe whose Celtic origins trace back to the Middle Ages. “I want to show this instrument to the world. This is a music that we still enjoy today in Asturias, Spain,” said Carlos Casado, 29, of Astoria, Queens, who learned to play the bagpipe at age 7.
“This is a good combination — Spanish folkloric with a Brazilian samba — we bring all of our cultural roots to the music,” said Brazilian Jazz guitarist Ian Santos, 24, who plays lead. He is from Rio de Janeiro and lives in Manhattan.
The band’s Japanese bass player, Ryo Miyachi, 22, who moved to Manhattan two years ago, said: “I’m playing everything . . . making it groove. I’m just trying to make the music sound good,” he said laughing.