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Music in the Streets and On the Mtro

Happy customers at Chez Alain Miam Miam in the Marias in Paris

I live on a relatively quiet street — one so narrow that the windows facing my own are closer than those on the opposite side of our cobblestoned courtyard. Everyone living in such a densely populated urban environment such as Paris has their preference, but mine is to have windows on the street, rather than the courtyard which is considerably quieter, for that very reason. Of course, the ideal situation is to have the living room on the street and the bedrooms on the courtyard for the serenity. Not every apartment has this luxury.

The courtyard just feels removed and distanced from the city life and now that 10 years have passed getting to know the sounds of the street, I’d be loathe to give it up. Very few of us streetside bother to close our drapes and so we get a glimpse into our neighbors’ lives and habits. Over the years, as you can imagine, many fascinating stories have accumulated. I will leave the “sights” for another time, but today, it is the “sounds” that are of more interest.

A few moments ago, not at all unusual, there was some rather wild yelling between a handful of people, about what I couldn’t say. It wasn’t particular enough to stop and take a look, although a head or two bobbed out from the apartments “en face.” My daughter’s boyfriend reported he had looked out to see a fight between a biker and a driver — perhaps the driver had run into the biker. All in a day’s events on a narrow street in Le Marais.

Yesterday afternoon, busily typing away on the keyboard, I heard music coming from the street. It wasn’t the usual organ-grinder, who strolls down rue de Saintonge every now and then, but a Dixieland type band — blasting on a trumpet and a tuba.

This time I ran to the windows to peer out. Down on the street were two men with instruments and while they strolled, they played. A few heads popped out of windows, too, and when the musicians saw us ogling them, they lifted their cups for our donations.

A few coins were tossed down. Usually, musicians are stationed in a spot on the street where they can gather a crowd. The Pont Saint-Louis (the tiny connecting bridge between the Ile de la Cité and the Ile Saint-Louis) almost always has street performers there, but occasionally we’ve had the pleasure of these wandering minstrels right outside our windows.

It’s more common to enjoy the minstrels on the Métro. In fact, the Paris Métro wouldn’t be the Paris Métro without them. For years when an accordionist would pop on and start to play “Those Were the Days,” or some other sentimental tune, like “Ma Vie en Rose,” I’d get choked up and think how silly I was behaving.

In typical French fashion, putting esthetics above all other needs, not only must Métro performers be licensed, but they must also be accredited by l’Espace Métro Accords (EMA). Since 1997, the EMA selects the artists and musicians authorized to perform in the corridors of the subway. Twice per year, there are more than 1000 who audition in front of a jury made up of agents of the RATP, which in turn grants approximately 300 accreditations. This selection is insurance for the travelers to enjoy the highest of musical quality!

In 2003, the Métro musicians recorded a CD of the best 14 representing the 14 lines of Métro, after a panel of judges heard 360 musicians, favoring original works. It was distributed by FNAC, Virgin and other music retailers.

The Métro majority of musicians are men, but surprisingly 47% are women, and 65% perform alone, rather than in duets, trios or groups. Naturally, these musicians are immigrant

s from all over the world — so they offer a broad repertory: medieval songs, symphonics, songs of North Africa, jazz and blues…and the corridors of the Métro resound in musical colors.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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P.S. Angel Productions is seeking two men who speak English to record a few phrases in English tomorrow afternoon in the 15th arrondissement. Each will earn 50 euros. If you’re interested, contact Aurelie Fauré at [email protected] or call

P.P.S. Yesterday Parler Paris readers gathered to get to know one another at La Pierre du Marais at the monthly coffee gathering “Parler Paris Après Midi.” Red Chinese lanterns shined brightly out the windows while a good time was had by all, including Toulouse, “le chien.” Read all about it and see the photos by clicking here: /parlerparis/apresmidi.html


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