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TTC seeks subway musicians

You don’t have to perform Don’t Sleep in the Subway, The Trolley Song or even The Spadina Bus, but if you can sing or play a musical instrument, you could be taking your act on the road — or, at least, into the subway station.

The TTC is getting ready for its annual subway musicians’ auditions. It will invite the first 175 solo or duo acts that apply by June 19 to audition from Friday, August 21 until Sunday, August 23 during the Canadian National Exhibition.

You can pick up an application package from the TTC’s head office, 1900 Yonge Street (at Davisville Station), Monday to Friday only, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., or you can print the package from the TTC website, here.

A panel of judges will select the top 74 acts who can then play in the subway system from Thursday, October 8, 2015 until Sunday, October 7, 2018. Thirty-six years ago, in 1979, the TTC chose eight musicians to perform in eight stations. Today, musicians perform at 25 stations.

You must be 18 years of age or older to apply and you must complete and sign your application form and return it to the TTC’s head office reception desk by Friday, June 19, before the TTC can invite you to audition.

You can learn more about the TTC subway musicians program here.

Until 1979, the TTC’s bylaws did not allow performers in the subway. TTC supervisory personnel and transit enforcement officers usually asked musicians playing in the system to leave.

However, as interest from musicians and passengers continued, in July, 1979, the Toronto Transit Commission formally approved allowing musicians to perform in subway stations, with TTC staff and musicians choosing eight stations for a pilot project.

In January, 1980, the TTC surveyed passengers about the subway musicians. The survey showed that 74 percent of passengers were in favour of musicians performing in subway stations.

About 50 performers participated in the first subway musicians auditions in 1979. This number has steadily increased over the years, with the average being about 160 musicians.

While most of the auditioning entertainers are guitarists, the list of instruments that people have played during the auditions includes the balalaika, violin, kalimba (thumb piano), cello, saxophone, mandolin, cimbalon, dizi (Chinese flute), pan flute, banjo, dijerridoo, bassoon, hurdy-gurdy and steel pans. Also, many of the auditioning musicians play and sing original music.

Underground sounds in the subway have included African, American, Celtic, Chinese, Jamaican, Japanese, Latin and Ukrainian, among many others.

Subway musicians have included two Juno winners, Royal Conservatory of Music graduates, symphony performers and published musicians.

The TTC chooses judges from a wide range of musical- and performance-arts backgrounds and from technical and business areas of the entertainment industry. They include media celebrities, music educators, talent-booking agents and representatives from the Royal Conservatory of Music and jazz and various folk festivals.

They’ll judge performers with these criteria:

  • stage presence;
  • musical or performance talent; and
  • entertainment value.