Smiles Of A Summer’s Day

I had as much music, sun, walking and rowing as a man can stand during Make Music New York yesterday, the first official day of summer, and it was worth the drop-dead exhaustion at the end of the day. Every kind of music was made by every kind of person, and if the technical polish wasn’t as fine as you’d find in a concert hall, the music making was great everywhere. People got together to make music, as individuals and en masse.

I mostly stuck to Central Park due to both the concentration of events in geographical space and the proliferation of the free pianos. I heard the pleasantly ramshackle Hungry March Band, complete with dancers perambulating:

a middle-aged guy came off a bench and played the shit out of ‘Date Dere’ and ‘My Favorite Things,’ sounding like a cross between Bobby Timmons and McCoy Tyner:

a mass of flutes played under the Bethesda Terrace, musicians coming and going freely:

and as I was winding it up, I stumbled on a handful of sax players, laying down Jaco Pastorius’ arrangement of ‘The Chicken,’ which was hip and cool in equal measure.

The big event was Xenakis’ Persephassa played by six percussionists on and around the Central Park Lake; three spaced out on the shore, the others each on their own improvised barge. We, the audience members, were on our own rowboats which we rowed out to the performing area (I had the pleasure of rowing Anthony Tommasini around).

The experience was really quite wonderful (there’s a video of it here), not just a musical one (and musically there are problems in listening to a piece where musicians playing together end up sounding like echoes of each other), but an aesthetic, social and environmental one as well. It is always a simple and profound pleasure to be out on the water, and it’s a spectacular sight to see the tops of the grand apartment buildings to the west of the park floating over the trees, as you yourself float. We got to know our boat-mates a bit, spoke with people passing by, and enjoyed the calm silence of all the listeners while the music was spinning around us, coming and going in space. Beyond the notes and the rhythms, people gathering together on a day like yesterday, to witness a performance amongst them, is why we’ve ended up with great cities like New York. Music made civilization.


I put together some samples of audio I recorded during the day, with a bit of editing – you won’t hear all of Persephassa but you’ll get an impression of that and some of the other things I heard.

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