New York's Central Park gives musicians the boot

Few instruments can be gentler than the harp, but authorities in New York's Central Park have branded street musicians like harpist Meta Epstein a public disturbance and want them driven out.

A new campaign to enforce eight "quiet zones," including in some of the city's most hallowed spots for street performers, is turning virtuosos like Epstein into outlaws.

After years of being left in peace to perform her baroque repertoire on the beautiful, golden instrument, Epstein, 59, says she's suddenly being treated as a menace.

Park police, she said, accused her of destroying the grass where she sat and ordered her to move on.

"They say we're responsible for the bare patch but then you see people everywhere playing soccer with boots and cleats," she said in bewilderment. "They were actually pretty nasty and I'm not used to police intimidation. It's basically putting us out of work."

Nearby in the mosaic-lined colonnades next to Bethesda Fountain, a few brave souls performed Mozart and Gospel songs in defiance of the ban.

The columned arcade is not just a prime tourist spot, but enjoys some of the best acoustics in New York outside of a concert hall, leaving the last note of each song hanging in the air. But the musicians, including a Japanese singer, a Ukrainian double bass player and singer John Boyd, said playing timeless music hadn't saved them from the crackdown.

Boyd, a 48-year-old with a powerful, deep voice, pulled eight pink sheets from his pocket - park police summonses handed out over the last two weeks for fines ranging from $50 to $350.

"I've been ticketed and arrested because I wouldn't stop singing," he said. "My life has been devastated by this."

Central Park representatives say they have nothing against musicians. They just want don't want them in "quiet zones," which have been marked with new, shiny green and white signs.

Park spokeswoman Vickie Karp said the zones include the Bethesda Fountain area, Shakespeare Garden, Sheep Meadow and Strawberry Fields, the living memorial to the Beatles' John Lennon, who was murdered nearby.

"For every protester supporting music or loud noise without limits, there are thousands of park visitors who come to parks looking for peace and quiet," Karp said in an email.

"Parks are one of the few places you can come and hear the soothing sounds of nature: bird songs, falling water, the wind in the leaves, human conversation."

Karp pointed out that musical performances at Bethesda Fountain can attract crowds of as many as hundreds of people. Some weekends, the sound reverberates across the boating pond and into the carefully preserved, dense woodland of The Ramble.

"It is not that we are against music. It is that we are for quiet," Karp said.

Musicians say that logic doesn't justify the expulsion of classical singers and string instrument players, whose melodies, if anything, are more soothing than the noise of tourist crowds.

Arlen Oleson, 56, who plays the hammer dulcimer, noted that huge concerts for rock bands are organized in Central Park, bringing tens of thousands of people to trample the grass and mammoth speakers to pump out mega-decibel music.

"It's a galling hypocrisy," he said.

The street musicians have gotten some high-profile help in the last week.

Norman Siegel, a prominent civil rights lawyer, has taken up their cause and Boyd said the attorney was helping him try to escape punishment.

Geoffrey Croft, the founder of NYC Park Advocates, which supports city parks, has also jumped in, calling the issue "absurd."

"As long as there's been a park system people have been playing music in parks," he told AFP. "They're claiming people are complaining, but who's complaining?"

The clampdown appeared to mystify tourists, some of whom come specifically to Bethesda Fountain to hear the free, impromptu concerts.

Tourist Zita Misley, a mother of three, said she'd noticed the "quiet zone" sign nearby, but hadn't quite got the point.

"Oh, I thought they put 'quiet zone' so that we could listen to the music!" she said when told of the park's campaign.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager required for ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator

    £25000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator A...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones