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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

COMMENT: Metro Musicians Dodge Low Salaries, Militsiya




They descend to the depths of the subway system to make a few rubles. Call them "metro musicians."


You'll find them everywhere, particularly at central subway stops. They perform for the occasional kopek or ruble to supplement meager incomes, but they are often driven away by the militsiya, fined and threatened. Usually, passengers are too busy rushing to their destinations to stop for long, but they do find the time to throw a few coins into a hat on the ground.


In one of the tunnels at Kitai-Gorod metro station, a blind musician performs regularly. In the morning, he sets up a synthesizer and tickles the ivories while singing folk songs. During the afternoon, he disappears, and a violinist takes his place and plays from the classical repertoire. I stopped to ask him some questions, but he didn't want to talk; he played in an orchestra that recently disbanded, and he doesn't want his acquaintances to know what he's doing. And three times a week, at the same spot, two other violinists offer up snippets of Bach and Mozart.


At the Novokuznetskaya-Tretyakovskaya stop, I heard a young mezzo-soprano performing arias a cappella. But, on seeing someone she apparently knew, she suddenly stopped and hurried toward the train platform. I looked around and saw an elderly woman who stopped 10 paces from the singer: "Lyusenka, what are you doing here in the metro?"


A baritone and guitarist also appear at Novokuznetskaya-Tretyakovskaya, filling the tunnels with the soothing strains of voice and strummed strings. The baritone told me he used to be a philologist, but, when his eyesight failed and he could no longer work in his chosen field, he took to singing in the metro. Both he and the guitarist now make their living in this subterranean pursuit.


At Tverskaya-Pushkinskaya, a young, shapely violinist was playing a Sviridov waltz. I stood near her for 10 minutes and realized that, once she had finished the waltz, she immediately started it again. She told me that she inherited her violin from her grandfather and that she played with an orchestra in a musical theater. She explained her lack of varied repertoire by saying she likes the Sviridov waltz, and the passers-by come and go so quickly they rarely stay long enough to hear the end of the piece.


She said she performs three times a week, as long as five or six hours at a time. It's tiring, but she said her husband is unemployed, and her metro gigs significantly beef up the family budget. As for the militsiya, she said they should concentrate their efforts on hooligans and drunks. But, like her endlessly repetitive waltz, they keep coming back, a familiar refrain for the musicians playing in the bowels of the Moscow metro.


Vladislav Schnitzer is a pensioner and freelance journalist.