Published in the Montreal Gazette on April 12, 2014
Music in atypical places has frequently been a contentious issue in Montreal’s history. For example, a Montreal Star report on June 12, 1905, recounted how Ontario Street store owner Joseph Douranos was sentenced “to pay a fine of $5 or go to gaol for one month for having music played in his store, for the purpose, it is alleged, of attracting custom.” Indeed, throughout most of the Edwardian Period, music was not permitted in the streets of the city, or in its saloons. Unlike many other municipal by-laws, this one was rigorously enforced with relatively heavy fines.
As a result, it is difficult to imagine what those same Montrealers who lived over century ago would have thought of the various types of music in the public spaces of our city today.
Consider our Metro system for instance.
Busking in the Montreal Metro network is as popular as ever. Everyday, if you take the subway, you are likely to come across one such musician strategically placed near a STM blue signboard authorizing him (or her) to entertain the commuters. It is said that there are over 200 buskers performing daily in the 68 different stations that compose the Montreal underground transportation system.
It should be pointed out, however, that busking in the city Metro network was not always viewed by the authorities in a favourable light. In the late 1970’s, early 1980’s, police often escorted musicians out of the station in which they were playing. Others, less fortunate, were fined, just as in Edwardian times.
Subsequently, an association was formed in order to promote the right to busk in the subway system. After a lengthy struggle, including a petition with over 10,000 names, the burgeoning group won, in February of 1983, their argument to be allowed to perform in certain areas of the underground grid.
However, the blue signboards, with which Montrealers have become so familiar, were only installed in 1986, leaving a three-year period where the presence of musicians in the Metro was somewhat of a free-for-all. The chaotic situation was further aggravated by the arrival of, from a little bit everywhere, artistes hoping to find a place to play in one of the more sought after subway stations.
Eventually, in 2009, the first association was officially replaced by a much tighter organization called the Regroupement des Musiciens du Métro de Montréal (RMMM), more popularly known as the MusiMétroMontréal. With new rules, more corners in Metro stations for musicians, a charter for the group, the non-profit organization quickly assumed collective responsibility for 150 newfound members.
In the spring of 2011, RMMM decided to hold a concert in order to demonstrate the extraordinary quality of so many of the artistes performing in the city’s underground network. The Café Campus was chosen as the venue, and the show was staged there on March 20 of that year.
The performance was such a great success that the Société de Transport de Montréal approached the group with an offer to select, in partnership with the RMMM, the top 40 Metro musicians and tagging them ‘Les Etoiles du Métro’. In a pilot project, these individuals would be given priority in the more prestigious stations of the underground system.
Not only did Les Etoiles du Métro perform in the subway to rave reviews but, in 2012, they participated in all the major summer festivals held in the city – Jazz, Francofolies, Juste pour Rire, etc. In 2013, the group was increased to 60.
On April 21 of that same year, ‘Station Campus 3’ was held once more at the Café Campus, at which several members from the now defunct Québécois rock group ‘Les Colocs’ appeared. The popular event, sponsored by MusiMétroMontréal, will take place this year on Sunday, April 13, from 7:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M., again at the Café Campus, 57 Prince Arthur East. Telephone: 514-844-1010
Additional information can be found at www.musimetromontreal.org
Below, two photos by Mikhael Matoussov from last year’s event at the Café Campus –