Wendy Sayvetz ’81 keeps commuters happy in New York
City’s Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station. (Courtesy
Wendy Sayvetz ’81)
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
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.”
By Van Wallach ’80
Van Wallach ’80 is a freelance writer in Stamford, Conn.
Listen to Wendy Sayvetz ’81 perform
two of her songs: