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Moving In Harmony

Harmonious sounds from buskers now create a moment of pleasant order for riders, instead of adding to the controlled chaos of their morning and evening commutes.

Buskers - or street performers - regularly greet riders at Suburban and Market East Stations in Center City and have done so for many years. However for the past five months a newly instituted permit program has helped create greater harmony at the stations. The permits, which address rider, merchant, and performers concerns, have the buskers playing a new tune.

Prior to issuing permits, at times, the number of performers and volume created more noise and annoyance than music.

Peter Hansen of the Real Estate Department is essential to the permit application process. Hansen is responsible for assigning the artists to designated areas. "These entertainers have long enjoyed the support and appreciation of the daily commuter," said Hansen. "They are very sincere and dedicated to their art. It's not unusual for them to come to my office with their instruments to apply for the new permit."

Musicians of varying degrees of expertise now hone their craft amidst the commuting 'audience' at specific times and locations. At no cost, artists can apply for a permit entitling them to perform during a specific three-hour block of time between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily. "We begin accepting permit applications on the 15th of every month for the following month and have a total of 35 total spots available," said Hansen.

Veteran performers Agnes Dutill and John Sutton (also known as the 'Center City Singers') have become a welcome attraction at Suburban Station over the years. "Before other musicians would try to claim your spot," said Dutill. "Now everything is more spread out and organized. No one can claim our spot because our permit says we can be at this location at this time." Just steps away from their permit location is the Au Bon Pain eatery. "The staff and customers always look forward to seeing them," said store supervisor Keisha Johnson. "Knowing that they have a scheduled time really has made business better."

Commuters can hear Phillip DeGenua play his flute at Performance Area 2 in Suburban Station. He gracefully plays a wide range of music from standards to jazz. "At first I thought SEPTA was being unfair because now we have to set up in certain areas," said DeGenua. "I was wrong; it [the permits] organized the musicians and that helps the riders and the station."

Enacted in the summer of 2009 artists, merchants, and riders have quickly embraced the new permit policy. "The response has been impressive," said Hansen. "I don't play an instrument, but it's great to be a part of the creative process!"

Banjo player Huston West has received a permit to perform on scheduled days, times, and locations.

Peter Hansen meets in his office with flutist Felix Wilkins.

Two of Suburban Station's favorites, Agnes Dutill and John Sutter, perform for riders.

Phillip DeGenua treats commuters to soothing flute solos.