Make Music New York
The first day of summer: that sensation of being warmed by sunshine, the promise of possibility and everything new. Also pretty powerful isthe feeling that music brings. Combine the two and you’ve got something seriously unstoppable; you’ve got Make Music New York, an all day, free, outdoor festival that takes place on the streets, sidewalks, parks, community gardens and plazas of NYC’s five boroughs.
MMNY is not the only event of its kind. There is Critical Mass, a vast worldwide bicycling event, Go Skateboarding Day, an international skateboarding appreciation day that also falls on June 21 and NYC’s own Yoga at the Great Lawn, a free event at Central Park the following day where 10,000 people come to practice yoga all at once. In fact, the idea for MMNY originally came from France’s national musical holiday, “Fête de la Musique,”and since its inception, there have been tons of festivals like this all over the world, happening at the same time, on the same day.
It was Aaron Friedman who saw “Fête de la Musique” and loved it so much that he decided to bring his own version to New York four years ago. That first year there were 560 free outdoor concerts, which is an immense amount, but now, just four years later, the number has nearly doubled in size. Still, New York has a ways to catch up with France. In Paris, about 1500-1600 concerts are formally listed,but the amount that take place winds up being even more than that because anyone can play music at any time. Friedman says, “In France, it’s not an event where you have to go through a permit process and become an official participant. You can just go into the street and start playing instruments. It’s like Halloween or something. You just show up and start doing it.”
In New York, you need permits for practically everything: park space, pedestrian plazas, amplified sound. Part of what MMNY does is take care of all the permits. So, essentially, MMNY helps artists get their wings and then sets them free. As a result of encouraging artists to do what they want, the festival is super DIY. Amateurs to professionals take part, they all havecomplete artistic control and news spreads organically through word of mouth. Friedman talks about how last year there were only ten concerts in Harlem and this year, there are closer to seventy-five. He ruminates over this idea,“And it’s just because one person’s like, ‘You know what? We should be doing this in Harlem. I know a bunch of people; let me start getting them involved.’ That’s really what it takes to get things to the point where there’s a critical mass of music everywhere.”
Friedman compares the pairing up of musicians who are looking to participate and the places that volunteer to host events,to a matchmaking Web site. Locations and artists sign up independently and they find each other through mutual needs and interests. And there are many different kinds of players to match up. Alison Ward’s band, the Ruffian Arms, are playing on behalf of their practice space, The Sweatshop, located in the heart of Williamsburg. Ward who describes her band as an “outrageous performance art band” sayswith a clear sense of excitedness, “We wear costumes, high heels, and we usually don’t get shown in daylight, much less on the street, so the opportunity to perform on the street is just absolutely appealing.”
Over on the other side of town, in Greenpoint, are the students of P.S. 110, the Monitor School, and their Arts Coordinator, Dana Raciunas. Raciunas describes her school as having an extensive arts program so naturally they wanted to participate in MMNY. A mix of Pre-K through fifth graderswill be alternating between singing and playing musical instruments. A few highlights include: “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” Raciunas says about the day, “We thought it would be a great way to celebrate the first day of summer which is what that day is all about, schools and parents and teachers going outside and creating music and celebrating the first day of summer.”
Amy Merrill a volunteer who worked with a lot of Greenpoint venues this year reflects this sentiment, “On Monday, passersby will stop and watch bands they’d never heard of, find new ones they love, and enjoy a mini-show on the sidewalk for free.”