A Day of Music

In a not-so-recent musing on Thanksgiving (it is June, after all), Frank Oteri asked an interesting question: What would happen if there were one day of the year where everyone sang or played musical instruments together, just for the fun of it?

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Opera on Tap performed works by Michael Rose, Daniel Felsenfeld and Jennifer Griffith in Brooklyn’s Ft Greene Park as part of the 2009 Edition of Make Music New York (photo by Jon Wasserman)

This might not be exactly what Frank had envisioned—but it gets pretty close. Once a year, on the summer solstice, amateur and professional musicians and listeners take to the streets of NYC for the simple pleasure of playing, listening to and sharing music. Twelve hours worth of musicians of all ages, creeds, and musical persuasions playing everything from hip-hop to opera to Latin jazz to punk rock, performing anywhere they can fit for whoever comes out to listen or happens to be walking by.

It’s the Make Music New York festival, which is something I’ve been involved with as the volunteer director of North Brooklyn—reaching out to the community, bringing people together, recruiting venues, recruiting performers, coordinating logistics (e.g. negotiating sound permits etc.), and working with other volunteers (the effort was all volunteer and involved many people) for the past six months or so. Make Music New York is an off-shoot of France’s La Fête de la Musique (faites de la musique—make music!). The idea was first broached in 1976 by American musician Joel Cohen, then employed by the national French radio station France Musique. Cohen proposed an all-night music celebration at the moment of the summer solstice. The idea was taken up by French Music and Dance director Maurice Fleuret for Minister of Culture Jack Lang in 1981 and first took place in 1982.

In its 28 years of existence, the concept has taken off around the world, and it is now celebrated at more than 300 locations in 100 countries, including the following American cities: Cambridge, Kalamazoo, Albion, Dallas, Miami, Pasadena, Philadelphia, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Santa Fe, San Jose, and Washington DC.

Here’s a look at the diversity of music-making in New York—uncurated, uncensored, and open to all—this past June 21, 2009 for the third annual Make Music NY festival. What does it do for the American psyche? And does it heighten the general public’s appreciation for music overall? Judging from the turnout this year—some 900 performances despite the rain—and the smiling faces, it must be doing something, and it’s looking good.

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Mass Appeal Flutes in Riverside Park (photo by Gillian DiPietro)
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Mass Appeal Megaphones at Union Square (photo by Elizabeth Ferguson)
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Mass Appeal Piano Block Party on Cornelia Street (Photo by Elizabeth Ferguson)
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Mass Appeal Ukuleles at 66th & Broadway (photo by Greg Gatuso)