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Reading Terminal Market

By Jesse Sturge, Tess Fields, Amy Moore

PHILADELPHIA--As patrons peruse the stalls and shops of Reading Terminal Market, bouncy, classical, or jazzy piano music can be heard over the chatter of customers. Pianists have been playing in the Reading Terminal Market for as long as most of the employees can remember.

"There's always been a piano here," said Debbie, a worker at the shop Amy's Place.

The Market began as a small open-air farmer's market in the late seventeenth century and expanded to six blocks long by the middle of the nineteenth century.

In 1959, the market was moved indoors to avoid the weather and various health hazards. Now there are more than 80 merchants in the Market, many of whom are descendants of the original farmers from more than a century before.

However, the food and unique products are not the only things that bring in customers from all over the world. The bright, cheerful music played throughout the market makes the experience even more enjoyable. The question of how long the music has been in the Reading Terminal Market remains a mystery.

"It's been here as long as I have, so at least eleven years," said Lisa Cassetti, the Administrative Assistant of the Market.

The latest piano was donated about two years ago by David Braverman, founder and owner of LeBus Bakery at the Market. It replaced the old broken-down piano that was used before. Braverman's piano was given to him by his father and holds enormous sentimental value.

When it started to lose sound quality, Braverman was going to sell his old piano, but later decided to donate it to the Reading Terminal Market so others could enjoy it.

"I gave up the $600 in exchange for being able to have my piano finally played. I have this idea of pianos that they're meant to be played... And so I thought, what could be better... It just hit me that that was the place for my piano because itdidn't play the as good as it used to but it was way better than what they had," said Braverman. A plaque was put on the piano thanking him for his generous contribution.

At the end of his interview with a WHYY reporter, David Braverman unknowingly equated his old piano with the Market: "I think it's the perfect piano for there because it's a little honky tonky sounding, sort of loud and a little metallic. It's not fancy, it's black, it's ebony. It just seemed perfect to me."

Ever since a piano has been there, musicians have auditioned for the privilege of showcasing their talent. About eleven pianists rotate taking turns every two hours on different days throughout the week. Other bands come into the Market to play about twice a month as well.

Nevertheless, the music is not enjoyable for everyone. "I think the customers enjoy it more than the shop owners because we hear the same people day after day play the same songs over and over... it's very grating on the ears," Debbie remarked. "But for the customers, which is what [the piano] is there for, it actually serves its purpose."

The musicians are purely volunteers though and are not given any type of salary, except for a tip jar that sits atop the piano. Each musician usually makes around $15 per week.

Many might wonder why musicians vie for the chance to play in a food court for little or no money. But for them, it's not about how much money is in the tip jar at the end of the day. "To be honest, I don't take those tips," says Anita Auerbach, a musician of the Market. "I let the fella after me have them because he needs it more than me. He doesn't have a job and I let him have them."

To the pianists of Reading Terminal Market, continuing the long appreciated tradition of filling the stalls with not only food, but music, is more rewarding than any amount of money.

"There's something I like. I like the market, I love the flow," explained Claudette, a current pianist. "And I like when I play and I see the movement in the people's body. They might not stop and dance but I can tell. It's touching."