There’s a Place For Us

Walker Evans SubwayFor a few years I’ve been noticing three notes that play out on some NYC subway lines as the train leaves the station (you hear them on some 2, 4 and 5 lines). A NYT article uncovered what they are.

When the subway brakes are engaged, they sing the first three notes of “There’s a Place For Us” from West Side Story.

How perfect is that?

New York City a place for people from every corner of the globe, a place you come to find your place, to take your place, a place you fit when you don’t fit any place else. You come to New York City because you don’t belong anywhere else and find finally that you belong here.

And now to find there’s a love song is being sung to us day and night, non-stop, under our feet.

I love New York!

here is the audio from the NYT article (and featuring a snippet of Jessye Norman!)

Here is an excerpt from the NYT article about the notes:

“What makes a melody sound like a melody is not the note it starts on — it’s the relationship from the first note you hear to the next one,” said John Mauceri, the chancellor of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and a conductor who worked with Mr. Bernstein for 18 years.

What the mind knows as melody, Mr. Mauceri said, are these intervals between notes. “Our brains are built on pattern matching,” he said. “How does a finch recognize another finch singing from a tree a half-mile away? Once you have two or three intervals, they become locked in your brain as that song.”

In the first sung line of “Somewhere,” there are two intervals, Mr. Mauceri said. Between the first note — “there’s” — and the second note — “a” — the interval is known as an ascending minor seventh. From that second note to the third — “place” — there’s a descending half-step interval. The songs from “West Side Story,” which opened on Broadway in 1957 and was made into a movie in 1961, are often used to teach intervals to music students.

“What you’re hearing in the subway are the two intervals that remind you of the song,” he said. The same intervals can be heard in other pieces of music — for instance, in the second movement of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto — but do not reside so prominently in memory as “Somewhere” because they are deeper in the music.

“ ’Somewhere’ is probably the only song that starts with them,” Mr. Mauceri said. “Or certainly it’s the most famous.”

The music was composed before the words, which were written by Stephen Sondheim, Ms. Bernstein said. “For a while, there was a dummy lyric to the tune,” she said, singing it: “There goes whatshisname.”


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