While living in France, Aaron Friedman experienced Fête de la Musique -- a day-long summer solstice celebration in French cities large and small in which amateur and professional musicians take to the streets. Friedman was struck by how the event went beyond a traditional music festival to become "a massively participatory musical holiday. It had this kind of spirit like a musical comedy where everyone's going out on the street and then everyone starts singing together. It was just like an amazing thing to witness. And I thought it might be able to work in New York too."
Creating Make Music New York -- the festival Friedman subsequently founded --involved getting buy-in, both from the musicians who would take part, as well as the city government and neighborhoods. While he met with some skepticism from those who felt such a spontaneous event wouldn’t be successful in New York City, at the same time, Friedman was able to garner support by attending community board meetings and meeting with city council members and other neighborhood groups, such as community gardens, block associations, and churches, as well as musicians of every kind in every neighborhood.
From the start, Friedman recognized that if he wanted Make Music New York to be a success, it would need to involve a wide range of musicians and musical genres, and he turned to those who knew those music scenes to coordinate. "I had 12 volunteer interns from Columbia and NYU, who each specialized in a particular genre of music. It was their job to go out and recruit classical musicians in practice rooms and concert lobbies, or punk musicians by passing out flyers at punk shows. Every kind of music had a different strategy behind it. But the idea from the beginning was to create an event, like in France, that is clearly open to any kind of musician in any part of the city."
Friedman acknowledged that the festival is very much a partnership with the city of New York. "The city is so supportive of what we’re doing—we have liaisons in each of the city agencies, so there’s someone in the police department and part of his job is to help coordinate Make Music New York, someone in the Street Activity Permit Office, the Parks Department, the Department of Cultural Affairs. All of this has been able to happen because they’ve been able to work through all these inner channels to make sure that each event has the right kinds of information from each place."
Now in its sixth year, Make Music New York has grown to include more than 5,000 musicians, performing in all five boroughs, in venues ranging from Central Park to the Brooklyn Public Library. And the idea is spreading throughout the U.S., to cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle. Friedman is also planning to expand the program in 2011 to include Make Music Winter, a companion festival on December 21st, the winter solstice.
The following slideshow provides a snapshot of the 2011 festival as Friedman describes the enormous creativity and unique partnerships that make Make Music New York a success.