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Amy Reusch

Bernstein, West Side Story & the Subway...

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Okay... I was in NYC over the holiday weekend... and down in the subway I kept hearing the first three notes of "Somewhere there's a place for us" from West Side Story... I would hear it and just as I was beginning to wonder if it where some sort of arts installation in the subways, the cars would careen at a different speed and the melody would be broken... Have I lost it? Or has anyone else heard this? And has it been there since the beginning and Bernstein heard it as well?

Curious & perhaps demented back in Connecticut,

Amy

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Got to love the internet... FromRandy Kennedy's "Tales from the Underground"

But several months ago, a friend of mine swore that he heard his subway train singing an actual song-or at least the first three notes from one. Specifically, he said, he was almost sure that the notes were from "Somewhere," a song in the famous musical West Side Story.

The first lines of the song are:

There's a place for us,

Somewhere a place for us.

Peace and quiet and open air

Wait for us

Somewhere.

If my friend, Roy, hadn't been a clinical psychologist, I might have questioned his sanity. He was questioning it a bit himself, wondering if he was imagining things the way psychotic people do. "Am I getting the secret message?" he asked himself.

But then I heard from other people who also had heard the notes being played by a generation of brand-new trains that had just begun to run in the subway. As the trains pulled out of the stations, they made an ethereal sound, sort of like the sound made by rubbing your finger on the rim of a crystal glass. First there was a low note, followed by a very high note and then a slightly lower note.

One day, finally, I heard these notes myself, and I agreed. They were definitely the first three notes from "Somewhere":

There's a place . . .

Figuring out why subway trains were playing the beginning of a Leonard Bernstein tune wasn't easy. My friend Roy liked to think that maybe a mischievous and inventive train builder somewhere had programmed in the musical notes as a joke. But, alas, in the end the explanation turned out to be less funny and a lot more technical. Officials from the Canadian company that built the trains, Bombardier, put an end to the mystery once and for all.

The new trains are equipped with devices called "power choppers" that release, at three short intervals, the 750 volts needed to make the trains move forward. It is these devices, in other words, that give the new trains their musical qualities.

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Thanks for both the question and the answer, Amy, even if it is a bit disappointing to know that it's chance, not choice, that gives us those notes.

I dread the day when they learn how to fix the mechanism so that it plays "New York, New York." Better they should leave this unintended Bernstein tribute.

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I dread the day when they learn how to fix the mechanism so that it plays "New York, New York." Better they should leave this unintended Bernstein tribute.
Bombardier was one of the companies that Seattle was looking at until the expanded monorail project got killed.

Maybe they would have figured out how to make the voltage play the first three notes of "Louie, Louie."

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Bombardier was one of the companies that Seattle was looking at until the expanded monorail project got killed.

Maybe they would have figured out how to make the voltage play the first three notes of "Louie, Louie."

If they'd only promoted that, I'm sure the project would still be viable!

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Some NYC subway trains also play the first three notes of Tsch, Piano Concerto #2. Balanchine and Bernstein - that's why I live in NYC.

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