Yesterday I went to pick up the mail and there was THE letter from the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) Subway Musicians Program. THE letter that we had been waiting for, with nervous anticipation, since our audition almost a month ago. Nervous anticipation, because from year to year it’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride. I debated (briefly) about waiting to open it til Dwight was home but decided I just had to know. The news was good…no, the news was GREAT! Our license number is 7…that means out of the 75 people issued licenses (around 170 auditioned) we got the 7th highest score. This year we auditioned with original material instead of familiar covers so that is even cooler that we scored so well!
We first auditioned for the TTC SMP in 2005. We were thrilled when we were issued license #30. Last year (2006) after a year of playing underground with lots of positive response from subway riders, we auditioned again. Ouch…that year we didn’t make the top 75. While one of the three judges had scored us high, the other two didn’t. One in fact didn’t like anything about us. Dwight took it in stride but I was devastated. Thankfully though, a new Auxiliary License program was being tested and because we were in good standing from the previous year we could continue playing. The main difference between an Auxiliary License and a regular one is that regular licensees are formally scheduled at the 25 eligible stations on a rotating basis throughout the year. Auxiliary licensees can play at any eligible station IF a regular licensee is not playing at the time, and they can be bumped if one comes along and wants to play. We were pretty lucky…we didn’t get bumped too often by non-scheduled musicians. I think many realize they could easily find themselves in the same situation in any given year so are respectful of that. Unfortunately a few of the ones who did bump us weren’t exactly diplomatic, which was disappointing. Throughout the year we heard stories about some really great musicians who were in the top 75 one year and out the next. Before the Auxiliary Program, that meant a whole year of lost revenue for them. Although many of the subway musicians have “regular” day jobs, others rely on it as a major source of income.
That brings me to an interesting observation I’ve made since we became part of the TTC SMP. It surprises me that some people perceive playing music in the subway as a form of panhandling, rather than seeing it as a performance in an established music venue (over 25 years!) with a formal, well structured program. Some acquaintances assumed we had fallen on hard times when they heard about it. And during the past two years there have been occasions where people we know, nod to us sheepishly and rush past appearing to not want to be seen consorting with the rabble. Tossing a coin to a musician is just one way for people to show appreciation of the music they are hearing. A smile or a thumbs-up is an equally important show of support. As a musician, there isn’t a better way (no pun intended) to reach people from all walks of life. With over a million commuters in the system everyday the opportunity to have your music heard is second to none. And, it is so satisfying when someone stops to buy a CD, because you know something they have heard has touched them enough to want to take our music home with them.
The new TTC SMP year with our new license begins in October. Until then we will continue to seek out available spots to play. I plan to start blogging about our experiences down under so stay tuned!
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