A Day in the Tunnel

(and why I went there)

August 14, 2010


A few weeks back, I was at my usual spot at the Met, playing classical guitar for the passersby and step sitters.

I was suddenly informed by a young woman in a green outfit and a badge (a ranger), that I had to turn off my amp.

Understand, this amp is a puny, battery powered toy - 5 watts max.  But it gives me enough of a boost so I don't have to devote all my effort into producing enough volume of sound, and I can focus on all the nuances and details that make a classical guitar piece what it is - a work of art.  The average fully acoustic guitar could never produce a meaningful amount of sound, on 5th Avenue in Manhattan.

I do own a very special guitar - a John Price - but I never brought it to the park or the steps of the museum.  This Price is the loudest guitar I've ever played - and one of the best sounding guitars, as well.




By some wizardry, Price has found out how to double the projection of a normal nylon string guitar.  In fact, I always really wanted to play it out there, to see if I could dispense with the amp.  But, knowing the limitations of even this great guitar, I always opted for the ease of playing the classical/electric with the amp.  I'm out there for hours, the amp makes it so much easier on me and much more enjoyable for the audience.

 I'm trying to create an ambience of calm serenity.  I never try to overpower the audience - my amp is incapable of it anyway.  Even with this amp I can't be heard sometimes.

I tried to explain all this to the Green Ranger but my words failed to persuade, and she insisted I could NOT use this amp at the steps or anywhere in the park.

I moved on - I tried my alternate spots - but the Green Ranger kept turning up.

I started looking for a spot where I could play without an amp, but get enough volume of sound to have dynamic command of the instrument. 

Last Sunday I left the amp home and I took my Price in hand - and I tried my usual spots on the paths, but really had to play with all my strength just so the people passing could hear anything.  Forget the people on the benches.  Some of them tell me - you should get an amp, I could hardly hear you.  I have to bite my tongue.

I went out again today to play, even though it is very difficult - what else am I going to do?  But I ran into Jose the water vendor, and he asked me what was going on.

After I explained, he suggested that the tunnel might be a solution.

I thought about it.  I had considered playing in one of these tunnels before - there are a number of them around the park, but I never had.  I thought it might be spidery and reek of urine and cheep booze.

But, with all that's happened lately, I figured today I'd give it a try.



I entered cautiously.   

There could be corpses or trolls or bats or used condoms.

Who knows what unspeakable acts may have been committed in this very cavern???





But no, it actually seemed rather pleasant.

Very tidy, actually.  

Not a corpse in sight - or at least, very few.






The sound in here is incredible.  There's a natural echo, and the shape of the tunnel magnifies all the sound.

You can hear the ants walking around in here.  It's a natural sound amplifier. They sound like Clydesdales!




A busker - or troubadour -  is one who plays an instrument or does an act in public places, usually for gratuities.  I undoubtedly qualify.

I learned from Wiki, that a busker's spot is called his "pitch".  The right pitch is critical to success in busking, as you might imagine.  This place isn't the best, and it isn't the worst.  Without my amp, it's pretty much all I've got.  So, for now, I guess this is my pitch.




There's a steady flow of folks walking through, making it a pretty good spot.  Also in its favor, I can't get rained on, or sunburned, or approached from behind (an important consideration for buskers).



So, as much as I'd like to be up on the path, or at the steps - this pitch has its plusses.  

The downside is, nobody is sitting there, taking it all in, they're just passing through, so I have to grab them instantly (figuratively, of course), and I can't work my magic over the course of several pieces.  

The guitar - the way I play it - cannot be appreciated in a moment.  It kind of has to grow on you.  You listen to me for a bit, and realize you're enjoying it.  It's hard to do that in the time it takes for people to pass me.

Of course, there is the occasional aficionado.  The classical guitar devotee will invariably stop and listen to me play for awhile.  They used to be able to sit on the steps and listen to my whole repertoire, if they wanted.  And they often did.  I miss the artistic bonding that happens, when somebody would pass me on their way into or out of the museum, hear my sound, and then sit down on the steps to listen.  When that would happen, I'd know my efforts will not be wasted and my playing would almost always improve several levels.


The best thing of all, when I'd have a number of listeners on the steps, all in synch with me, all "getting it", all applauding.

That's out of the question, down here in this mine.

But, at least I'm on the right side of the law, here.  One of the officials that has told me to move on in the past, went by me and didn't say a word.  So not having an amp gives me a little more space to ply my craft.

And, the sound of the Price guitar in there, with the natural reverb and amplification, is absolutely gorgeous, and plenty loud enough.

Still, I'm hoping that one day soon, I will emerge from my subterranean sanctuary and retake my rightful place as a surface dwelling human.

By then I may have turned into a Gollum sort of creature - a knobby, grotesque little gnome - but who knows, maybe I'll find a magic ring in that cave!!!

This magic ring will make the Green Ranger automatically turn around and walk in the other direction.  Peace would reign in middle earth - I mean the Upper East Side.

That's it for now - I'll be keeping my eye out for a change in the wind and move my pitch back to the Met when it seems right. 

 I belong there.  I have proof.  Wiki couldn't have it wrong... 


For now - look for me where the sun don't shine.  This particular tunnel is on the east side of the park between 76-79th, near the Alice in Wonderland statue.

I've been through some rough patches before this.  Sometimes they get enforcement crazy.  But I shall return to the steps of the Met, where I've been playing for the last 20 years.  I've persisted, and that's despite the sometimes unfriendly cops, inquisitive dogs, unruly children, unruly adults, other performance acts, brake dancers, acrobats, thieves, beggars, drunks, the heat, the cold, the rain, getting stung by bees, and getting hit by bird doo doo.  And that was all the same day!

See ya soon!



Come and listen you fellows, so young and so fine,

And seek not your fortune in the dark, dreary mines.

It will form as a habit and seep in your soul,

'Till the stream of your blood is as black as the coal.

"Dark as a Dungeon." - Merle Travis