Please enjoy our library of current episodes available to stream while NYC-Arts is on hiatus for the summer. Explore the MTA’s Music Under New York program and meet some of the musicians involved: Stiletta, a pop vocal group; Iain Forrest, an electric cellist; Martina Bruno, the Angel of NY and an opera singer; and Marc Mueller, known as StreetMule. We look forward to our return in the fall!

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♪♪

Coming up, 'Music Under New York,' a special edition of 'NYC-Arts.'

♪ Rockin' with Stiletta, and we're takin' the floor ♪ ♪ Yeah, we do it a cappella, leave 'em begging for more ♪

The MTA's music program has been bringing diverse performers into the transit system since 1985.

[ Mid-tempo cello plays ] [ Upbeat exotic music plays ] ♪♪ From Times Square to Atlantic Avenue, you never know what music might greet you on your commute.

[ Singing opera music ]

[ Beatboxing ]

Funding for 'NYC-Arts' is made possible by... This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

Additional funding provided by members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

First Republic Bank presents 'First Things First.'

At First Republic Bank, 'first' refers to our first priority, the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree?

Be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.

And by Swann Auction Galleries.

Swann Auction Galleries -- we have a different way of looking at auctions, offering vintage books and fine art since 1941, working to combine knowledge with accessibility.

Whether you're a lifelong collector, a first-time buyer, or looking to sell, information at swanngalleries.com.

♪♪ ♪♪

Good evening. I'm Paula Zahn.

Welcome to a special edition of 'NYC-Arts.'

Tonight, we explore the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's musical side.

Since 1985, the MTA's Music Under New York program has been bringing performers into the transit system.

While musicians can perform in the subway without joining the program, those who do are able to book prime locations and stations in transit hubs throughout the five boroughs.

Every year, the MTA holds auditions in Grand Central Terminal to select the next group of diverse performers.

As a result, you never know what music might greet you on your commute.

♪♪ Now let's meet some of the musicians on the MTA's roster.

Stiletta, an all-female a cappella and beatboxing group.

♪ Get into the beat now ♪ It's bound to explode

[ Beatboxing ]

♪ Here it comes, oh ♪ Oh

Iain Forrest, known as 'Eyeglasses' -- an electric cellist and aspiring eye doctor.

[ Coldplay's 'Viva la Vida' plays ] ♪♪

Martina Bruno, 'The Angel of New York' -- an opera singer and divinity student.

♪...precious did that grace appear ♪

And Mark Mueller, known as 'StreetMule,' who has dual careers as an architect and street musician.

[ Upbeat exotic music plays ] ♪♪ From Times Square to Atlantic Avenue, we follow their performances and see the subway through their eyes -- not only as a transit system, but as a home for the arts.

[ Beatboxing ]

In the early and mid '80s, the New York subway and much of the MTA system was on the brink of collapse.

Things were falling apart, and the MTA began an effort to turn it around to bring the system back.

Part of turning that around was to bring art, both visual and performing, to the customers to say, 'Here, we're here, we care about you, and we're gonna make this a great place, a great journey.'

In 1985, the MTA founded Arts for Transit.

So, at the same time, Music Under New York had existed as a pilot program.

And so it was formalized immediately to also become one of the arts and design programs.

Through Music Under New York, we have over 350 individuals and groups that perform about 7,500 annual performances in the transit system.

We have 30 designated Music Under New York locations.

The roster consists of a whole range of musicians, and they are reflective of the people and the cultures of New York City.

♪ ♪

We have an audition each year in the spring.

It's held in Grand Central Terminal, and we schedule a full day of performances.

♪♪ During the audition, we have a panel of 30 judges that represent the music industry.

All of the judges have a score sheet that score each of the 70 performers on quality, variety, and appropriateness for the transit environment.

♪♪ At the end of the day, we gather the score sheets, tally the scores, and we notify the musicians as to whether they received a top score and become part of the Music Under New York program.

When they join, they're given a banner, which identifies them with Music Under New York.

Through the identity, through the logo, through the ability to sort of schedule to be in a place on a frequent basis, you establish a rapport with the customers.

I think the most rewarding thing about being part of the team that brings music to the public is that the public loves it.

They immediately knew that this was being done for them, that they were the audience.

[ Singing opera music ]

You like to experience and engage in that journey, in music and art.

They allow that, they allow us to connect.

♪♪

Pumped.

[ Laughter ]

♪ Get up

♪ Get up

♪ Get up

♪ Get down

♪ Get pumped

[ Beatboxing ]

When I moved to New York City, I had this vision that I wanted this fierce, strong, feminine girl group that incorporated both a cappella music and choreography and dance, and so that's how I came up with the idea for Stiletta.

[ Vocalizing ]

♪ You and ♪ I am ♪ A-R-R-I-V-E-D ♪ I've arrived ♪ 1, 2, 3...

I came up with the idea of the stiletto heel, which is extremely feminine, obviously, and also a stiletto is a knife.

So it's both feminine and fierce.

♪ ...how this thing goes ♪ You run and tell your friends that you're leaving me ♪ ♪ You say they don't see what you see in me ♪ ♪ You wait a couple months, then you gon' see ♪ ♪ You'll never find nobody better than me ♪ ♪ Ha ♪ Lockdown ♪ Your love locked down

We perform at the Times Square-42nd Street station a lot, and you get tourists, you get commuters, you get crazy people -- you get everybody.

And it's really, really fun.

And it's always a trip.

[ Vocalizing ]

People will stop, and they'll stand and watch our entire set, which is like an hour long.

We are @StilettaNYC.

Our main goal -- and not just in the music that we pick, but in just who we are as people -- is to inspire our audiences and uplift women and empower women.

♪ I used to compromise, I had no voice ♪ ♪ I tried to imitate, that was my choice ♪ ♪ But now this vanity is takin' over me ♪ ♪ It's all I've got today, just makin' noise ♪

We have an original song called 'Get Pumped.'

It's just about basically getting up and dancing and just feeling good about yourself and wearing high heels.

♪ Stomp your heels and strut ♪

Our arrangements are very specific to our own sound.

♪ Get high, get high ♪ Get low, get low ♪ Get into the beat now ♪ It's bound to explode

[ Beatboxing ]

♪ Here it comes

MC Beats is a huge part of why we sound the way that we do.

I am the vocal percussionist and beatboxer of the group.

[ Beatboxing ] 2012 was the first time I went to the world championships.

So at that point, I was beatboxing a couple years, and I ended up placing third in the world.

[ Beatboxing ] Shortly after Judy found me and I started doing a cappella, and that's been my main focus since then.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Thank you so much.

People are like, you know, 'Unplug the radio,' or stuff like that, because they really thought we had tracks underneath us.

We never do.

It's always live, and it's always all six of us doing it.

[ Vocalizing ]

♪ Oh

♪ Yes [ All vocalizing ]

Since we started performing in MUNY, we've gotten so much tighter -- so many hours after hours after hours of singing together in that subway.

It's made our group really, really grow.

♪ Let me take you there

It seems like, in that moment when the six of us are finally together, it's like... even though there's all this chaos around and you never know what's gonna happen and you never know what you're going to get, it's like our sense of calm.

[ Vocalizing ]

Being in the subway kind of forces you to acknowledge what's immediately in front of you.

♪ You need a good girl to blow your mi-i-nd ♪

[ Imitates explosion ] [ Cheers and applause ] [ Electric cello music plays ] ♪♪ ♪♪

I started cello in fourth grade when our music teacher came around for instruments.

So I picked up the cello, and I played the first note, which was a really low, resonant note, and I just loved the sound of it, that bass note.

But after high school, me and a friend, we actually went out to the streets of Washington, D.C., and we started playing contemporary songs.

And I remember the reaction of people walking past on the streets.

It struck me like, 'Hey, this can be really something special here.'

After college, I moved up here to New York City area for medical school at Mount Sinai.

And one of the things that drew me to New York City was obviously the culture that we have with the arts.

That's when I looked up MUNY, Music Under New York, and I found out they had a whole audition process -- sent them an application, did the audition.

♪♪ And, thankfully, everything worked out.

And the reason why I chose 'Eyeglasses' is because of two reasons.

I want to be an ophthalmologist.

I want help people see better, specifically kids who have lost their vision at a young age.

The second reason, which is a bit more lighthearted, is that Beethoven, he wrote a piece called 'Eyeglasses Duet.'

When musicians sat down and read the sheet music in front of them, there were so many notes on it, it was such a tricky, difficult piece to play, that the only way musicians could read the music is if they wore really, really strong glasses.

So I absolutely love the story behind that.

I took inspiration from that.

[ Cello tuning, feedback ] So, I play the electric cello, and it's the exact same four strings as an acoustic cello.

The only difference is they stuck a little pickup inside the electric cello so it can be amplified, so it's louder.

[ Cello plays Coldplay's 'Viva la Vida' ] So, what I love to do is also use a looper.

So, essentially, what I do is I'll play a bass part, percussion part, a harmony part on the cello, and then I can loop that segment over and over again.

So it essentially comes down to I'm playing 9 or 10 different cello parts at the same time.

So it just opens up a lot of doors as to what I can do musically.

[ Cello plays Coldplay's 'Viva la Vida' plays ] ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ So, unfortunately, there's not much sheet music out there for, like, nine cellos to play, like, pop songs or rock songs.

So, yeah, oftentimes I'll just hear a song on the radio or on Spotify.

And then once I've listened to a couple of times, I kind of extrapolate it out and try to create, you know, a cello rendition of it.

♪♪ ♪♪ Amongst all that kind of, like, chaotic energy, of people, you know, bustling and crowds moving, I think the best part of that is just seeing how the music impacts these people who, you know, are either have their headphones on, just watching their phone, trying to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, and then just seeing them being able to stop, just enjoy the moment for what it is.

♪♪ In medicine and music, you really have to connect with the human being sitting in front of you.

Helping uplift them with music, I find it actually makes me a better medical student and hopefully a better doctor down the road, too.

♪♪ ♪♪ [ Cheers and applause ] Thank you, guys.

Thank you so much.

♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ I know how it is to work in the morning and the hustle and bustle.

One day, I heard a little girl sing, and it really touched my heart.

It made a difference in my day.

And so I was like, you know, 'Maybe I could do that for other people.'

I had just graduated college, and I was like, 'What am I gonna do with my life?

Eh, let me help people out while I figure it out.'

And so, one day, there was this lady.

She came up to me really, really upset.

'[ New York accent ] You know, you have a beautiful voice, honey.

You sound just like an angel.

What are you doing down here?'

[ Laughs ] [ Normal voice ] And I was like, 'I want to be an angel.'

♪ How gracious did that grace appear ♪ I decided to take this seriously at some point and not just moonlight.

I was tired of getting harassed by the cops, and becoming part of MUNY allowed me to have a schedule, and then I could really keep that schedule, that structure.

So right now I am at Yale Divinity School, where I will be getting my MDiv.

I work as a chaplain.

I gig a lot.

And so that's how I kind of balance everything.

♪ ♪ I don't think I would have ended up at divinity school if I didn't sing in the subway.

♪ ♪ People are crying and telling me all their issues, and I wanted to be able to be of service.

[ Singing opera music ]

Every subway has its own culture, which is kind of weird, but it's true.

When you're in Grand Central, there's a lot of businesspeople, but then people transiting, and it's a very interesting mix.

I tend to do the goodies -- oldies but goodies.

I like to tap into the collective consciousness of New Yorkers.

[ Singing opera music ] So it's like laden in your subconscious, and people usually act to things that are very familiar.

[ Singing opera music ] Whether it's Carmen or opera or sacred music, I give my all.

I sing it because it's a communion with you, with the person who's listening.

It humbles me because I sing, I worship.

♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ But I just want them to know that they heard an angel and they're not alone.

♪ Amen ♪ Amen Singing in the subway, it could be very chaotic but very beautiful at the same time.

That's New York City.

♪ ♪ [ Exotic music plays ] ♪♪

When I was a little kid, I would drum myself to sleep by putting my ear to the mattress and playing the mattress.

And then I would hum to it.

What I'm doing now is not really much different than that.

♪♪ I came up with the name StreetMule because I play so much on the street and in the subway, and it is, in a sense, a shortened version of my last name.

♪♪ I decided to audition for my solo act because I wanted to be able to express myself on my own time.

This program speaks of a love and diversity and expression for being whoever and whatever you want to be.

And the New Yorkers eat it up.

I love New York for that.

And I love the program for that.

♪♪ People ask me all the time what this music is, and I tell them, 'It's sweaty.'

What I'm trying to do is provide the people that see me with 15 seconds of energy.

The sound is more of an idea of the New York City diaspora, of people coming together from all over the world and finding something new.

♪♪ I consider really everything an instrument.

There's hand drums like the Middle Eastern hand drum, which is a darbuka or a doumbek... and then a which is a Peruvian rhythm box.

And then I play a plastic wind tube.

That could be a PVC pipe, a fiberglass tube, or an actual didgeridoo -- and then percussion on my hands and on my feet, as well.

It's a whole balancing act.

♪♪ Atlantic-Pacific in Brooklyn is a great spot for all my local people.

It sounds really great.

♪♪ It kind of looks like a trumpet.

The sound is compressed a bit, but then it opens up.

And so for my sound, it just kind of billows out like that.

♪♪ I play to the pulse of the location that I'm playing in.

I find that my creativity is best in the moment.

In the subway, the moment to entice somebody to come by and stop even or just slow down is so short that I've learned to slide in and out of different time signatures and moods.

So I'm flexible as far as what I'm doing.

And that has, I think, helped my rhythm experience because I've become more agile with my gear, basically.

♪♪ The best thing for me is when I see a child, and because they are so much in the moment, the people that are watching or the adults, they'll realize that that's the point of playing street music.

♪♪ Put down the technology and just dance.

Connect. That's all.

♪♪ ♪♪

Whoo!

Alright, baby.

♪♪

Thank you for joining us this evening.

We hope, the next time you're in the subway, you'll follow the music and discover something new.

I'm Paula Zahn. Good night.

Hope you'll join us next time.

To enjoy more of your favorite segments on 'NYC-Arts,' visit our website at NYC-Arts.org.

♪♪

Leonard, what a privilege to be able to sit down and talk with you.

I love being here with you too, Paula.

Where are we?

We're at a moment to take nothing for granted.

Well, it's a pleasure to be with Marci Reaven, the curator of this exhibition full of hope.

We are in the midst of some of the greatest sculptures by the iconic names.

The 'Cardboard Guitar' is the very first of that moment of realization.

Suddenly, you come and present something, and you get applause.

Great, you know?

[ Upbeat classical music plays ] ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

Funding for 'NYC-Arts' is made possible by... This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

Additional funding provided by members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

First Republic Bank presents 'First Things First.'

At First Republic Bank, 'first' refers to our first priority, the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree?

Be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.

And by Swann Auction Galleries.

Swann Auction Galleries -- we have a different way of looking at auctions, offering vintage books and fine art since 1941, working to combine knowledge with accessibility.

Whether you're a lifelong collector, a first-time buyer, or looking to sell, information at swanngalleries.com.