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Things to see in Milan in Italy : The buskers on the Metro

Updated on January 3, 2014

Things to see in Milan in Italy: The buskers on the Metro

For the modest price of an 'urbane' day ticket you can enjoy a varied selection of live music.

Ride on the Milan Metro system under the streets and fashion parades of Milan in Italy.

This is no guarantee of a seat in the rectangular forum of the railway carriage.

Most most especially not during rush hour of course.

But a packed audience is indeed guaranteed.

Even in the quieter daylight hours you may still struggle to rest your weary legs.

The Milan Metro has ample floor space but few seats. This reflects its design to carry as many Milanese commuters as possible in as little space as possible. Walking to either end of the station platform may prove fruitful as the ends of the trains are usually quieter.

But then other equally cunning people may have thought of exactly the same thing. Besides some of the stations have entrances at the sides of the platforms anyway. Therefore travellers often flow straight down the stairs and pile into the train.

Musical chairs in the rush hour crush

Wherever you enter on your travel other folk just as selfish as you may thwart your hopes for sedentary pleasure. Though this is particularly acute for the old-fashioned amongst you who will resist the urge to surge for that empty seat when there are ladies and senior citizens present.

These knightly heroes bringing up the rearguard of civility in the melee will however be rewarded with a little light musical accompaniment. For there are unscheduled daily performances on the Metro ranging from a breakfast melody to a concerto notturno.

Strike up the band

No sooner has the door alarm sounded and the carriage is sealed when some travelling minstrels strike up a tune. The roar of the train echoing through the tunnel is often softened by a jaunty Italian folk song. The sounds of modern automation and mechanical drive are replaced by the rustic air of the south from places such as old Napoli or even Sicily.

Acoustic guitars and accordions will transport you far from the money-driven metrolpolis.

The presssures and preoccupations of city life are placed at the back of the mind for several brief moments.

Meawhile the instruments harmonise to evoke the vineyard, the country bistro and the village square.

All the stresses of the city submit to the gentle evenings of the agrarian south.

The unabashed cheerfulness of the musicians is infectious as they wish you a "buongiorno" or a "buonasera" before launching into the music.

The cynics will sneer, the weary will sigh but the poetic among you will surely feel an uplifting of the spirits on a dreaded Monday morning. Even bringing forgiveness for renditions I have witnessed, such as the theme from the movie 'Titanic' played on a concertina.

I also once heard the metallic coursing of a portable hammer dulcimer.

Remaining on the movie theme it was vibrating to the instantly recognisable tune of 'The Godfather'.

In the wrong hands this instrument can resemble a cocktail fork rattling across a toast rack.

But even the pitiful sight of an old pensioner plying his trade did not spoil the enjoyment.

He provided a gentle and unusual sound which soon filled the carriage.

This was enhanced by the echo off the station walls as the musical notes floated to and fro when the carriage doors slid open.

An instrument more identified with Eastern Europe so perhaps our ageing virtuoso came from a neighbouring country. However there is some history of the dulcimer in Italy so it may have been a domestic throwback to former days. Certainly an unusual addition to the array of sounds underground.

Fiddler on the hoof

If the traditional music of the common country folk of whichever nation does not appeal then there are other options. The aesthetic tastes of cultural afficiandos are also catered for on frequent occasions.

Plush seats in the opulent surroundings of La Scala theatre lie above the concrete. But down below the inviting strains of the violin may suffice. With scarce enough room to stretch a note on the bow a classical entertainer will sweeten the musty air of a crowded gathering.

The music itself may not extend to a string quartet.

The need to travel light will dissuade even an unemployed cello player.

Nevertheless you may still be regaled by two or three artists trained in the higher musical academies.

A cultural interlude to regale the ears and lighten the heart.

Performances are short as the musicians dart from carriage to carriage and station to station in search of their muse and their daily bread.

Although certainly the man that I saw playing a harp in a lane in the centre of town is unlikely to venture downstairs.

The X-certificate factor

Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous if not slightly more enterprising. One day I heard a female voice making an announcement through a P.A. system and naturally assumed it was the station announcer. I could only understand "buon viaggio" which I thought was simply pleasant customer service from the rail authorities.

However it was actually a young girl with a microphone and on her back she carried a full orchestra of sound contained within her rucksack. Musical appreciation is all subjective of course but being subjected to four whole minutes of karaoke did not sprinkle any magic onto my routine journey.

This was all the worse since the songstress began a cover version of a well known and saccharin-sweet ballad by Laura Pausini. A tune I had managed to avoid on radio until trapped in this underground torture chamber of bubble-gum Pop.

On the other hand commuters have found their eyebrows raising to an impromptu pole-dance by scantily clad ladies. The safety instructions do advise holding on to the poles but perhaps for more modest and practical reasons.

All change on the train

However if you enjoy the music on offer then a bright one euro coin is welcome. Or whatever you can afford. The plastic cup with creases either side will appear after it has lain squashed and forlorn in an empty pocket during performance time.

A single euro seems a small price to pay for a musical interlude unless, that is, you are statistically astute. Then you may calculate precisely that one euro for even a three minute performance equates to €40 for a complete two-hour concert with no support act. So perhaps that little snippet on the train is an expensive option after all.

So you indeed pays your money although you have no choice. You are literally part of a captive audience.

In a city of hustle and bustle the emphasis is on the former as Milan is full of people trying to extract your cash by fair means or foul.

Old ladies with pictures of Jesus beg for money at the bottom of the station stairs appealing to Christian generosity.

Young people on their knees beseech you with 'Ho fame' signs to ease their starvation. You ponder on the inadequacies of the Italian welfare system or perhaps the outrageous con of the workshy. We can only guess and then choose according to our nature and inclinations.

Inside the carriages will pass young mothers with babies asking for coins or even disabled people propping themselves up with walking sticks.

It can be easy to become inured to human need and suffering especially in the tough, modern environment of an international city. But the sound of music always alleviates the atmosphere, improving the perspective and heartening the soul.

Even the Milan authorities once joined in with their appreciation and briefly allowed station steps to be painted as piano keys. Thus, the passengers themselves were able to tickle the ivories, albeit silently, as they made grander entries and exits from the daily routine.

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    • Shinkicker profile imageAUTHOR

      Shinkicker 

      5 years ago from Scotland

      Thanks reading and commenting Mike and LaThing. Certainly Piazza Duomo is worth a visit for a stopover. Beautiful cathedral and surrounding square of buildings.

      Cheers!

    • LaThing profile image

      LaThing 

      5 years ago from From a World Within, USA

      Wonderful hub, with lots of insight to the city. Have a stop over at Milan late this summer, I hope I can visit the city. Thanks for sharing.... :)

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 

      5 years ago from London

      Pretty original subject and well written hub... congrats!

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