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When is it okay to play your cello on a train?

The question has cropped up this week on the New York subway, where a nameless young man has taken to practising Bach on his way in to work. There have been no public complaints so far, just a certain amount of twittery about the etiquette (soooo New York) of disturbing morning commuters with music that may not be their first choice. That’s assuming they can hear it above the subway rattle.

Here’s how it sounds:


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  1. Scottie Roche says:

    I’ll take him over one of our myriad out of tune mariachi ensembles any day.

  2. George Kennaway says:

    I once (late 70s) tried to practice the cello on the edinburgh-inverness train in a 1st-class compartment. Total disaster. Instant travel-sickness. So I admire him!!

  3. R. James Tobin says:

    New Yorkers are a tolerant lot, as the absence of complaints shows. My only concern is for the safety of the man’s cello. One act of vandalism or greed could cost him his instrument.

  4. Being probably the only cellist in the world who also ran a railway museum ( I think it is just fine!

  5. This is what happens when your apartment is too small to bow a cello in.

  6. PK Miller says:

    In noo Yawk why would anyone bat an eyelash. And would they prefer, perhaps, –aaack–Justin Bieber???? Seriously, I agree w/R James Tobin’s comment above. I only hopehis cell is not stolen or vandalized. Otherwise, if he can concentrate on a NY subway all the more power to him!

  7. Warsteiner says:

    As a native NYCer who has spent WAY too much time as a subway commuter, I can say that most of us are used to distractions in general. It is obvious that this Cello Samurai is one can short of a six pack.

    There is a difference between sharing and imposing

  8. MsMezzo says:

    I’m guessing he’s busking, as evidenced by what appears to be a container with dollar bill sticking out just in front of his cello. A step up from the mariachi bands, but busking non the less. As a NYer who has to ride the subways several times a day, I am so over it. To the guy who plays after the opera in the 66th Street Subway station..stop, please stop.

  9. Michael says:

    He must enjoy practicing on the subway, otherwise he would just pick one of the subway stations, which move around less. There is actually a city funded program that pays musicians to play in the stations. Her is one such musician:

  10. Mike Schachter says:

    I have heard a string quartet on the Paris metro.And seen a puppet show with music.

  11. Very subjective. I don’t like being forced fed on rap so justifying this would make it harder to object.

    I think the length of the journey is the issue. It’s easy to be tolerant on a shortish commuter run or when walking past a busker, but a longer (and more expensive) London to Glasgow train journey, for example, would be a different matter.

  12. another orchestra musician says:

    The serious answer to Norman’s title question is, when the train has an accessible baggage car or baggage compartment. I’ve known colleagues to practice in them quite routinely. On smooth track, and in moderate weather, it is quite feasible.

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