WASHINGTON – A violin plays “Climb Every Mountain,” a sax tunes “Oh,Danny Boy” and an electric guitar strings “The Girl From Ipanema.”
The songs are recognizable,though the time and place are unexpected.
Pop-music is the sound-track for rush hours at Metro stops,where street musicians try hard to get people's attention and receive some change in their instrument cases.
“It is good to see the reaction of people,you know,and see people's spirits lift,” said saxophonist Zacheus Maggett Jr.,52.
It has been eight years since he decided to be a street musician after working as a truck driver and bus mechanic. He takes his musical activity as seriously as any other job.
He works about eight hours a day,waking up early to guarantee a good spot,taking a break for lunch,resting in the weekends.
Maggett said he can make $150 a day,depending on the weather.
Originally from New Bern,N.C.,he lives in Baltimore and wants to play in New York's Times Square for New Years' Eve.
After that,he will take a break in January and February,returning to the streets – maybe here,maybe in another city – when the weather gets better.
With this routine,Maggett plans to play until he gets “too old.”
He said it is a challenge to get people's attention,and not everyone who plays is a musician.
“I noticed a lot of guys can play,but they can't entertain. I am here to entertain,” he said. “You have to do it because that is what you like doing.”
Clarice Karter,59,a retired federal government secretary,is one of the few women street musicians. She began to play at Metro stops two years ago.
“I like playing,and if I like it,I figured out somebody else might like it,” she said while collecting bills people dropped in her violin case.
Born in Brooklyn,N.Y.,and raised in D.C.,Karter started playing when she was 11. She said she has played with musical groups in Paris,Moscow,Saint Petersburg and at Carnegie Hall in New York.
She is a not a regular street musician. And,even though she doesn't make her living that way,she said people sometimes give her high-value bills. On July 4,Karter earned $500 playing for about three hours at Pentagon City,a Metro stop just across the Potomac River in Northern Virginia.
For her,playing in the streets is like a rehearsal,something she does when she “feels like doing it.”
“They stop,they listen. It doesn't matter,as long as I am happy. I am happy here with my music,” she said
Guitarist Mark Francis Nickens,45,said people like familiar songs.
Nickens,who has played on the streets for 18 years,said people appreciate “pop-like rock,” although he likes playing all genres.
“Music is music. I play all types,” he said.
When Nickens is not playing on the streets,he plays in clubs. He did not want to say how much earns outside,but he gave a clue: “This is pretty consistent. It pays better than clubs.”
Nickens,who also plays in New York,has his own Web site and is affiliated with Subway Records,a New York company that promotes street musicians. He also plays bass,African and Latin drums and composes songs.
Nickens is from Los Angeles but has played in D.C. for 10 years. He said that in Washington there is still competition among street musicians to get the better spot,although he said he tries to get along with all his colleagues.
“We all like freedom,” he said “Like everybody; we have good days and bad days. I try to have fun.”
To find out more about independent musicians,visit Subway Records at: http://www.subwayrecords.com