In our society today, music can be something that is both unifying and divisive, a medium of artistic expression subjectively absorbed by each one of us differently.  When it comes to listening to music, particularly aboard transit, general etiquette tells us that that it belongs in our own ears– hence, earphones are always a rule of thumb, as codified in Metro’s code of passenger conduct.  After all, it’s irritating to be forced to listen to someone else’s playlist during your 7am commute, especially when that someone doesn’t share your taste in music.

Live music, however, seems to incite a different response.  Of course, I’m not referring to that passenger humming loudly under their breath or singing along with their iPod out of tune.  I’m talking about planned or even unplanned events, where a group of people will bust out an impromptu jam session, and to everyone’s pleasant surprise, they may sound pretty good.  We’ve already seen some manifestation of this on Link when Hollow Earth Radio organized live music performances on several train trips last year.

This old well-known video from Paris shows the a cappella group Naturally 7 performing such an impromptu piece, clearly staged and planned beforehand but not seemingly publicized to general public.  While the performance is well received by the vast majority of the subway riders by the end of the video, you can’t help but notice the man in black who has his back turned toward the group, clearly uninterested or perhaps irritated by such a disruption in his commute.

As transit riders, it’s inevitable that we’ll find ourselves empathizing either with the applauding crowd or the man in black.  Of course, sometimes it depends on our mood.  One bad day at work might warrant a nice undisturbed commute home, whereas a good day might warmly receive such end-of-the-day festivities.  Other times, if the performance is outstanding, a bad day might be turned around, and few of us can complain about that.

On the whole, it seems that music in public spaces, particularly aboard transit, can be edifying, with a select few who will beg to differ.  It would be interesting the hear your opinions on this, though– are musical performances on transit something to be cherished or disdained?

36 Replies to “Music Aboard Transit”

  1. A year or so ago, LINK featured a musical evening for passengers. The train was packed for the entire event- resulting, incidentally, in the smoothest actual ride quality I’ve ever experienced aboard the Kinki-Sharyo cars.

    Passengers consisted of both music audience and ordinary travelers. Not only did no one complain, but everyone really enjoyed thenselves, some changing cars to hear a different band.

    In addition, International District Station was entirely free of pigeons for the duration, without use of guns, poison, or other unmusical coercion. Might be good to have a permanent concert staged at Tukwila International, where pigeons are a serious maintence problem.

    Mark Dublin

    1. So, the lack of lower mass in the train causes the cacophony of clacks on the tracks? Aren’t there welding machines that can fix that?

  2. Joni, Kevin, please keep live music off of public transit. A lot of people don’t have a choice which bus or train they take, so it’s not fair to forcibly subject them to loud music they may or may not like. Music is very subjective. One person’s music is another person’s noise. People should have the ability to walk away from live music if they choose.

  3. Personally, I find a lot of things annoying at 7 am that I would not find annoying at 7 pm. Music coming out of headphones is a bit irritating at 7 am, but wouldn’t bother me at all at 7 pm. These guys would probably get thrown off the bus at 7 am, but get a standing ovation at 7pm.

    BTW, you mean “uninterested” (not interested) not “disinterested” (impartial, not taking sides”).

  4. Live music = just another reason to drive, IMO.
    Even if it was the SSO, I would resent the fact that I was a captive to it.

    1. Unfortunately, you cannot walk between trains on Link, otherwise this wouldn’t be a problem.

  5. Of course the same people pretending to like and approving of a cappella group on the train wouldn’t object to a Christian choir singing to them for their entire trip, right?

  6. My own technical guess is that the reason trains ride best under full standing load is that designers consider it safest for the car to be most stable at maximum loading. Anybody with railcar engineering background, would appreciate your assessment of this theory.

    As frequent participant in standing loads on both trains and buses, one real advantage of rail vehicles is that a standing ride on rail is much more comfortable than same duration ride on a bus.

    Can also testify that absolute worst is crush standing load on a local bus- compounded by lack of lane priority and signal pre-empt.

    As to musical intrusion, I wouldn’t make live music a regular and routine feature of daily travel- though I think you’d be surprised how many people would like to have it, especially on LINK inbound from Sea-Tac Airport. Might be good introduction to Seattle.

    Somebody has probably already got a cellphone “App” that could make it possible to put entertainment information on ST website, including train times for performance.

    Real problem with proliferating entertainment would be the new demand it would place on the transit system for constantly improving talent- something that has always left the entertainment industry seriously challenged.

    And this problem would multiply exponentially with religious music. The choirs I’d love to ride with would all require more than a four-car train just for the singers.

    Mark Dublin

  7. I’m totally fine with music on rail transit (couldn’t see it being safe on a bus), but not so much during rush hours, nor in the morning. As someone above said, there are a lot of things I’d enjoy at 7pm that I wouldn’t enjoy at 7am.

    More than anything though, I don’t like it when there’s an implicit or explicit expectation for you to donate money to the person/people playing. I think people should be free to panhandle on the streets and such as long as they’re not aggressive about it, but I remember taking a train from NJ into NYC 6 months ago and some guy was telling jokes or making music or something (I don’t recall which exactly), and taking donations, but I wasn’t interested and didn’t want to hand over any money and being in a position where you can’t just walk away from that felt very awkward. I assume Metro/ST have policies forbidding this kind of thing for exactly that reason.

    1. Then you are fine with any kind of music on a train, right? Even music you might find annoying? If a three man group with a kazoo, gong, and accordion played every night on your train, you’d be fine with that?

      1. I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make or why you’re coming across as so aggressive about such an innocuous subject, but no, I wouldn’t care much about the type of music as long as it wasn’t being played to be deliberately annoying. And I wouldn’t want to hear just about ANY music every single time I rode the train, regardless of how good or bad it was, but I’m not sure anyone’s really proposing that that happen.

      2. Shane, your “innocuous” is someone else’s “flaming Seattle a-hole.”

  8. Thank the stars for noise-canceling headphones. I can tune out transit annoyances if I choose to.

    1. Completely agree. In the station is good, on the train, street car, or bus not a good idea.

  9. Once I was riding on Link and a couple of teenage boys in front of me were practicing R&B harmony singing. It was charming. I was sad when I had to get off the train.

    1. For some reason we (the “society we”) place a great importance on piano or violin lessons but just seem to assume that voice as an instrument doesn’t require the same effort. Good thing we still have poor people who have better values.

  10. If memory serves, the Paris subway (both on and off the trains) is full of panhandlers who can’t just panhandle. I think there is a law against that, so they “perform”. The guy in black is probably so used to such panhandlers that he assumes the same thing from these guys. The fact that they are singing in English probably doesn’t help. Then again, they had me in the first line — those guys can sing!

    1. I was going to say this too. I honeymooned in Paris about 10 years ago and remember the people performing on the Metro there.

      My enjoyment of my train ride with a performer depended heavily on the quality of the performer. Like, a night at the symphony is pleasant; a night at an elementary school band concert often is not so much. (And I say that as a former band member from elementary school through college.)

  11. On the whole, it seems that music in public spaces, particularly aboard transit, can be edifying, with a select few who will beg to differ. It would be interesting the hear your opinions on this, though– are musical performances on transit something to be cherished or disdained?

    Dear Obnoxious Seattle Hipster:

    Kindly STFU.

    Thank you.

    1. Not sure if you’re referring to me here, but you might like to know that I live in Bellevue and do nothing that would remotely acquaint me to hipsterdom.

  12. I’d prefer a live group to the guy with the headphones three rows in front of me where I can hear the bass and percussion of his music as though I was wearing his headphones. And of course, this being Seattle nice, no one says a word.

      1. Funny thing is, if you asked them to turn it down, they probably would unless they really were a “flaming Seattle a-hole”. (Granted, there are more of those than there should be…)

      2. Funny thing is, if you asked them to turn it down, they probably would unless they really were a “flaming Seattle a-hole”. (Granted, there are more of those than there should be…)

        You don’t get out much, do you? “Please, sir, could you turn down that ghetto blaster?” Do you have a death wish?

  13. As a former subway rider…one of the great joys in life of the MTA is zoning out in a cool air conditioned car, preferably a D or E with the yellow and orange McDonald’s seats, looking into the darkness out the window (of course avoiding the reflection of someone’s eyes) and trancing into the track noises, the regular beeps and dings of the doors as they open and close at stations, and lack of conversation on board.

  14. I enjoyed the Hollow Earth music performance on Link back whenever that was.

    It would be great if Sound Transit held a summer acoustic music series. Announce that the, say, 9:45 pm train out of Westlake on Saturdays would have live music on board 1 car. No money needs to change hands; I sure there are enough bands in in Seattle willing to play to get their name out there or to give back to the community.

    Set some basic ground rules: keep it acoustic, not too loud so the other car could be quiet, keep it family friendly, no smoking or alcohol. And if that goes well, Sound Transit could start a “music after dark” series on the 1:35am train, where none of those rules apply.

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