By Annette Hinkle
This summer, a little bit of the New York Subway system will be coming to the East End.
But don’t worry — it will be the good part.
“The Sounds of Summer” is a season full of music at the Parrish Art Museum and it includes three distinct facets designed to please a range of musical tastes while taking advantage of the museum’s large outdoor spaces.
There will be DJs spinning tunes on the covered terrace (DJ Blind Prophet kicked off the season last Friday night and DJ Mister Lama brings out his vinyl on June 14), “Jazz en Plein Air” (curated by Richie Siegler, founder of Escola de Samba Boom, who brings Hector Martignon’s Foreign Affair Quartet to the Parrish this Friday, May 31 at 5 p.m. for the first of four summer concerts) and, perhaps most intriguing, “East End or Busk,” a series that begins in June and features musicians who have made a name for themselves by plying their trade on New York City Subway platforms and in other subterranean places.
This is the Parrish Art Museum’s first summer in its new expansive facility on Route 27 in Water Mill, and for Andrea Grover, curator of programs at the museum, the additional square footage — particularly outdoors — provided a challenge and a chance to do something totally original with the space.
“We knew moving into the new facility that the new terrace presented a huge opportunity for programming outside during fair months, and we knew we were going to have music programming out there,” she says. “Amy Kirwin, who has joined me, has spearheaded the sounds of summer series which is a mix of local talent, New York based talent and DJs.”
For Kirwin, it was the design of the outdoor space itself that inspired creation of “East End or Busk.” Over the course of four Friday evenings beginning June 22 and running through September, the series will bring out a range of street performing musicians who will set up a number of musical “stations” at regular intervals around the perimeter of the Parrish.
“We have for the past couple of years been working at ways to change expectations of what happens in a museum,” explains Grover. “This is the perfect platform for that, as you walk around, you begin encounter different music, their costumes, the affectations.”
And platform is the operative word here. Whether by design or accident, the built in concrete bench that runs along the entire exterior wall all around the museum actually is reminiscent of seating in subways.
“Using the perimeter, that was part of the intention as well — taking advantage of the whole platform,” says Kirwin explaining that the feel of the exterior spaces inspired her to look into the possibility of bringing subway performers out to perform.
“We thought it would be fun and unusual for the summer,” she says. “The MTA actually has this program ‘Music Under New York’ — they audition and catalogue them. You can listen to the music, read their bios and I ended up scouring that website searching for different talent — and everybody I approached said ‘Yes,’ except one.”
“So we decided we would make it the kick off to summer – the weekend summer begins,” she adds. “And we’ll have a group of five buskers out — some individuals, some groups — around the terrace like a subway. They can solicit tips.”
Among the most intriguing just might be Natalia “Saw Lady” Paruz whose specialty is playing the … well, you know, something most people associate with cutting down trees. The sound is hauntingly eerie and reminiscent of the Theremin — an early electronic instrument. While saw playing seems to be a talent particularly well suited to subterranean venues, in fact, Paruz has made quite a career of her unusual music. She has performed with a number of orchestras, including the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta, at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall with PDQ Bach composer Peter Schickele and with the Little Orchestra Society. She’s also been on “Good Morning America” and has performed on NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”
And that’s the beauty of these subway performers explains Kirwin — you never know exactly what they’re going to offer, or how big their following may be above ground.
“I wanted there to be a really wide range of talent — from contemporary singer/songwriters like Natalie Gelman, to Korean drummers, we have a Japanese classical guitarist and two guys, the Xylofolks, who play upright bass and xylophones in funny costumes like chickens and stuff,” notes Kirwin. “They are all very different in style which is what I was going for. I wanted to get them all contrasting and in most cases, they are a little unusual.”
And as Grover points out, honing one’s musical talent in the subway is not a bad way to gain exposure, given the transient nature of the transit system.
“Most musicians, if they are playing a club or concert hall, have a limited number of people who will see them,” says Grover. “But anywhere people are in transit, you have thousands of people who will hear you.”
“I love that the MTA has embraced this,” she adds. “They realize this is one of the unique charms of the transit system. The music underground is like the Internet come to life. It’s a different subculture.”
“East End or Busk” kicks off Saturday, June 22 from noon to 3 p.m., then continues on the terrace on Fridays, July 5 and August 2, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., and concludes Friday, September 6, with “Bluegrass & BBQ, featuring barbecue from the museum’s café and music by The Ebony Hillbillies, one of the last black string bands in the U.S.
“Jazz en Plein Air” begins Friday, May 31, at 5 p.m., with Hector Martignon’s Foreign Affair Quartet. Subsequent jazz performances take place Fridays, June 28, July 26, and August 30 from 5 to 8 p.m. The Parrish Art Museum is located at 279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill. For more information on the various music series, visit the website at www.parrish.org.