Make Music Day Brings Out The Masses

June 21st, coined Make Music Day in the US, may soon be the most auspicious day for recreational musicians all across the country. An international celebration that began with France’s Fête de la Musique in 1989, the holiday has spread to more than 460 cities around the world. In North America, Make Music days were held in Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Pasadena, Providence, Santa Fe, and seven Canadian cities this year.


Beginning in 2007, Aaron Friedman has done his part to gather every type of musician, from every corner of New York City, for a day of musical sharing. “I saw the event in France in 2006, and thought it was just completely bewildering, cool, and spontaneous; everyone is doing their own thing, but all part of the same community,” he says.

Friedman, who has played saxophone from childhood and majored in music in college, lived for a year in France. He got involved in politics after returning to the US, before dedicating his heart and soul to Make Music New York. He looks at the event as a kind of amalgamation of the two fields—advocacy and music.

Make Music Day

“I think this kind of event encourages a different perspective on music making,” says Friedman. “It’s almost like a coming out thing. You have all these musicians who are in their practice rooms or clubs, and they’re not necessarily visible. New York is teeming with musicians, and so are a lot of cities. Bringing them all outside, and people running into music wherever they turn, is really a powerful statement.”

“I wasn’t completely sure what to expect when the event started in 2007 with 560 concerts,” says Friedman, adding that it’s twice that size today. Each year he’s worked to generate more interest with special projects that become permanent parts of the annual event. For example, in 2008, they secured Governor’s Island for use by punk rock bands; in 2009, they began Mass Appeals to gather people who didn’t have bands; in 2010, they worked with the group Sing for Hope and arranged for pianos to be placed in 60 outdoor locations throughout the city; and this year they added musical buses to transport people from concert to concert.

But the Mass Appeals have done the most to bring out recreational musicians of all levels who may have no other performance outlet. At these events, players of a single instrument, from cellists to guitarists to flutists, perform with hundreds of other players.

All Ages and Instruments

Mary Ann Tu became an organizer for Mass Appeal Flutes after a friend found an article about Make Music New York in a magazine and sent it to her. Tu, who had studied music in college, worked in banking for a number of years and knew she had the organizational skills needed for the task. Plus, she has a large database of flutists thanks to her current job organizing flute master classes for a number of professionals, as well as directing the New York Flute Club and Ensemble.

“I posted the event on my website and sent out one e-mail blast,” says Tu. “Basically it said, bring your flute and your stand, all levels are welcome. I just wanted everyone to sight read.”

“You don’t know how many people are going to come, and if they’ll bring bass flutes, alto flutes, or piccolos, so you have to have music for all types of ensemble mix,” says Tu. This year, the longest day of the year also happened to be one of the hottest days of the year. With soaring 100-degree temperatures, she chose “Silver Bells” and “Frosty the Snowman” to start out the afternoon.

“This venue is for everyone; it’s basically for the masses,” says Tu. “The music has to be relatively simple.”

The adults who turned up were joined by some students from P.S. 859 Special Music School and their teacher, Valerie Holmes. The group performed a piece called “Walk Like This” that used extended percussive techniques. Afterward, the children took on the role of teachers, showing the adults how to perform the piece.

“I got the idea kind of on the spur of the moment,” says Holmes. “We divided them up into four different parts and had them learn it. It sort of took off from there.”

Holmes sees Make Music New York as a valuable experience for the students. “I like them to see the larger, global music community out there. They are in a very regimented environment on a day-to-day basis in their school. I want them to understand that music is a commonality among people, and that you can always find people, wherever you go, with an interest and love of music,” she explains.

Tu agrees, adding, “I think music is for everybody, regardless of talent. It’s a way for people to give back to their neighborhoods, and I think that’s important. It’s a community event and it’s really positive. Everybody that approaches us is smiling and you never see that in the city.”

Make Music Day

Surprise Student

At the harmonica Mass Appeal, Mayor Bloomberg made a surprising guest appearance learning to play harmonica from Jia-Yi He, who has organized the harmonica event for the past four years. “The first time I heard about Make Music New York I thought I should join,” says He, explaining that the harmonica is perfectly suited for such an event.

“I think the harmonica is the most popular instrument in the world,” adds He. “I think of the harmonica as the peoples’ instrument because you can learn to play in just a few days.” A harmonica virtuoso, who frequently solos with orchestras, He teaches students of all ages at Turtle Bay Music School in New York City, and at seminars and master classes worldwide.

This year harmonica maker Hohner handed out 100 C harmonicas to participants at the Mass Appeal. “When people brought their own harmonicas, the problem was that the harmonicas were so different,” explains He. “There are a thousand different types, in different keys. I’m really happy that Hohner USA made this event even more interesting.”

Make Music Day

Giant Guitar Jams

Music schools and community centers around the city also participated in the Mass Appealents. The 92nd Street Y blocked off a section of 91st Street and invited beginning to advanced guitarists to jam with professional artists and other music lovers. They circulated fliers around the neighborhood and promoted the event at the 92Y music school and through an e-newsletter. Song lists and lead sheets were available online prior to the event.

“It is quite cool to be part of something that is worldwide. That really speaks to music being universal, a human need,” says Clement So, who organized the event for 92Y. “Our mission is really about improving peoples’ lives. This is a way to offer what we have to the whole city. It’s important to allow communities to participate in the arts. Sometimes people think of music as almost a luxury, but we don’t think like that.”

On the other side of the city, NYC Guitar School worked with Guitar Center, Guitar World magazine, and other sponsors who invited guitarists to Union Square for mini-lessons followed by a concert. “It’s such an amazing event because everybody can get involved,” says Jen Elliot, director of NYC Guitar School. “It was so social, and to be able to be a part of something so special was amazing and wonderful.”

“It’s one thing to play my guitar at home, but with others, I really get a feel for the song,” says Vincent Mc Master, 52, an administrative assistant, who participated in the guitar jam. “Now, I want to learn more and play more with others. I’m really inspired.” That’s exactly the kind of enthusiasm that Friedman, Elliot, and all the organizers hope to encourage.

If you would like to take part in Make Music New York, you don’t have to wait until next June. Last December 21st, the shortest day of the year, Friedman launched Make Music Winter, which features 12 participatory musical parades.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our article on the record-breaking “Make Music Day NY



Make Music Day

Cherie Yurco is a former editor at Making Music and has worked as a freelance editor and writer for over 20 years.

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