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The Violinst in the Subway

November 10, 2008

There’s a man in the Subway that I see everyday, an elderly man all hunched over from the years he’s carried violin92on his shoulders. He plays his violin in that seemingly never-ending corridor in Grand Central that connects the 6 to the 7 train. I look forward to seeing him–he makes me smile. I’ve given him money once or twice, because…he resonates with me. You see, when he plays his music, he closes his eyes, rocks back and forth and moves with his sound the way only a concertmaster during a grand concerto can. He feels his music. He’s something else, a character you find only in New York. He can’t play the violin at all.

Maybe at one time he could.  Maybe arthritis has made it impossible to play any longer. Maybe he’s never known how. All I know is the most complex piece I’ve ever heard him play is something along the lines of “Lightly We Row.” Usually he just plays notes. Sometimes, if he’s feeling fancy, he’ll rest his bow on two strings and play two notes at once. Often times, his fingers slip off the strings before he can finish a note through, so what entails is that incessant squeaking noise all parents dread when their children begin violin lessons. But I heart him.

Cynics may call him a crazy old man, they may say he’s just trying to take other people’s money. And to that, I say, “So what?” Isn’t that what all jobs are about?  He’s clearly doing something he loves. I think that he lives by a philosophy we should all try to live by. I only hope I can learn to live by his standards someday. Do what you love, even if you’re terrible at it. Even if no one understands or likes it. Do it with passion, because it makes you happy, and not because it can advance you far in your career, or because it comes with a high salary. The violinist in the Subway does, and from him, I’d expect nothing less.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mia permalink
    November 10, 2008 12:41 pm

    the homeless people here don’t do anything nearly as interesting as that.

  2. Leigh Ann permalink
    November 10, 2008 1:49 pm

    Nice job, lady! It’s things like that that I look forward to seeing in my everyday life, that make me take a look back at myself and evaluate things. Good for you as to recognize his inspiration and passion. Hope all is well:) xoxo

  3. Alicia permalink
    November 11, 2008 4:31 pm

    I know who you’re talking about. I hate that corridor (way too much of a workout) but he’s a pretty cool guy. I prefer the trumpet player though, he’s awesome.

  4. Neal permalink
    November 12, 2008 1:25 am


    What an interesting way to tell the story of something native New Yorkers would probably dismiss as mundane. While some may see him as obnoxious and others may not see him at all, you have given this subway soloist a story, a meaning to his practice.

    This reminds me of a girl who attends the same church as me. The Sundays we end up at Mass together, with relatively close proximity in seating, I can hear her sing every song the choir plays. She knows every word. Her voice rings loudly and with confidence. She wears a smile I can only assume comes from the words she’s sounding. This girl, as the subway soloist does for you, makes me smile as she is heinously tone-deaf. She sings for her, she sings for God. To share her joy is a treat.

    Great post! Keep ’em coming!

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