Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

December 13, 2006:


Wendy Sayvetz ’81

Musician Wendy Sayvetz ’81 keeps commuters happy in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station. (Courtesy Wendy Sayvetz ’81)

Wendy Sayvetz ’81
Singing underground in New York

Commuters rushing through New York’s Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station may glance at singer Wendy Sayvetz ’81 and think she’s just another guitar-strumming street musician performing for her supper. But that impression would be wrong. In fact, for the past 16 years Sayvetz has held a highly prized gig as part of the “Music Under New York” (MUNY) program, performing several times a week for thousands of well-heeled commuters.

The MUNY job has become Sayvetz’s key channel for selling her music and building her career. Since she began working on the railroad in 1990, she has sold 30,000 copies of five CDs and one cassette directly to the listening public. You can find Sayvetz at Grand Central in the hallway by the Graybar building or in the lower-level food court. At Penn Station, look near the McDonald’s or near the Eighth Avenue subway entrance.

The MUNY program, run by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, has about 75 regular performers. While they are not paid for their work, musicians keep all of the income from tips and sales during sets that last two to three hours.

When Sayvetz auditioned for the program, she had moved through different careers, including teaching, arts administration, and executive search. An English major with a theater concentration at Princeton, Sayvetz decided at the age of 30 to pursue her dream of music, but first she had to learn how to play the guitar.

Sayvetz’s playlist is “folk-pop,” mostly covers of folk and show music, along with Irish and ethnic songs that appeal to baby-boomer listeners. “The House at Pooh Corner” and “Send in the Clowns” are typical selections of what Sayvetz calls the background music she plays for commuters who may listen to her for anywhere from 10 seconds to an hour.

The dynamics differ from those at the concerts Sayvetz has performed at arts centers. “At a concert I do a lot more preparation, while at Grand Central I play what I’m feeling at the moment,” she says. “To make money at Grand Central, you have to put a different kind of energy out so people notice you. It’s a subliminal thing.”

MUNY became popular in the mid-1990s, thanks to a surge of national exposure. Several performers appeared on A Prairie Home Companion. Sayvetz herself spent two weeks at the Venice Carnival in 1992 as a representative of American street music. That type of publicity, she says, raised the program’s profile. “This isn’t seen as a weird thing for people who can’t get any other work,” explains Sayvetz. “It’s become a coveted performance spot.”

Besides MUNY, she sings at art festivals, private parties, and community concerts, both solo and with her husband, guitarist Andrew Schulman. “Playing at the stations is my bread and butter. It’s my base. It’s how I get other jobs.” (For Sayvetz’s upcoming concerts, go to www.abacaproductions.com.)

Commuters always have been a great audience, she says. “That’s one of the things that surprised me in the beginning. People were generous with their money and their compliments.” P

By Van Wallach ’80

Van Wallach ’80 is a freelance writer in Stamford, Conn.

Listen to Wendy Sayvetz ’81 perform two of her songs:

Click here to hear an excerpt of "Heart's Home"
(1:00, mp3 format, 472 KB)

Click here to hear an excerpt of "Go And Catch A Falling Star"
(1:00, mp3 format, 472 KB)