One of the most surprising pleasures of riding the metro each day is the musical numbers that often accompany my commute. Whether a violin player, puppet show, or ten-piece band, there is almost always something to entertain the passengers. At first, the spontaneous musical acts took me by surprise and irritated me – as I tried to enjoy my book in peace and quiet on the train, some random guy would walk on and begin his one-man-show. However, as I have grown more comfortable with my daily journey to and from school, I have learned to appreciate and even enjoy these brief demonstrations of talent. Many of the musicians and performers are older, and play the most beautiful music with obvious joy and love of their craft.
Though France values the arts perhaps more than any other Western democracy, it does not mean that musicians make any more money than those in America, and I suspect that many of these metro-performers get out of their day jobs and play music for a little extra money and the joy of sharing their talent. Though at first I hesitated to give any cents to these musicians, I have realized that when I truly enjoy an act it is worth the few cents laying at the bottom of my purse.
If you happen to be in Paris on a rainy day, I would encourage you to seek out some free music by riding the metro (also, some of the metro stops are pretty cool – Arts & Metiers, on the 11 line, is covered in beautiful copper and bolts). It is an interesting and carefree way to explore an underground (ha!) culture that is a true Parisian gem.
When heading to the 13 line (light blue) that goes in the direction of Asnieres-Gennevilliers/St. Denis-Universite (north), there is a singer-songwriter who plays the guitar and sings. His act is a bit more professional than most metro-musicians, and it shows: he has CD’s available to buy for a few Euro, speakers, and a microphone. He knows what he’s doing, and his music, though sometimes a bit too depressing for my taste, demonstrates evident skill and practice. He is great to listen to, and seems to really enjoy playing for the passerby and commuters that rarely stop for the full show.
My favorite of all the metro-musicians, the Chatelet exit features a ten-piece (there may be more, I can’t count) Russian band, complete with guitars, accordians, violins, and cellos, as well as ten very talented Russian men with strong, deep voices that bellow throughout the metro stop. Get off at any platform and you will hear their baroque voices emanating through the tunnels – I encourage you to follow the music, and stop and listen to them for a few minutes. They have been there almost every time I have gone to Chatelet (except late at night), and perform with the endurance and energy that most performers lack. They are incredible, a truly unique talent, and though they can be a bit overwhelming, their talent is pure and they provide a vibrant soundtrack to the commute that is often dull and boring.
Line 12 going South (the forest green one that takes you to Place de la Concorde, etc.)
Many times when I take this line to school, a guy shows up with a curtain, two puppets, and a disconnected telephone and puts on a puppet show. He never changes his act, always uses the same music, and seems to always find a way to annoy me. The song that his puppets perform to is something about “le telephone qui sonne” (the telephone that rings), and I don’t really understand it. Personally I think it’s a bore, and would be enhanced with an actual story line, some dialogue, and new puppets. However, every kid I’ve ever seen has loved it, and giggles incessantly throughout the entire 2-minute performance.
Various Metro Lines, If You Are Lucky!
My second favorite performances are the unexpected ones that surprise me and force me to put down my book for a moment and just listen. I love the accordian players the most – the sound just says “Paris!”, and reminds me of all the films I’ve seen that feature shots of the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Elysees accompanied by traditional French accordian music (think Disney’s Ratatouille). I also love the violin players. There was one on the 3 line the other day who played the most incredible music for about two stops, but I didn’t really want him to get off the train. These are the best because you never know when they’ll surprise you!