I’ve been lucky enough to be in France on June 21 for the Fête de la Musique, a celebration of the summer solstice where nearly every public space is filled with music. On June 21 in New York, a similar festival took place called Make Music New York. Beginning at around 10 am, there were performances all over the city. Unfortunately, it was a Monday, so I didn’t get to spend all day exploring and enjoying the music, but I was able to see some of it. There were bands playing in Astor Place (see above image), which is right by where I work, so I used my lunch break to wander over there.
After work, I met a friend at the New York Marble Cemetery, which was having a Haunted Picnic for the festival. The cemetery is rarely open, and I’d never gotten a chance to go inside. There are over 2,000 people buried in the cemetery, but they are all underground in the marble vaults. So the name “Marble Cemetery” really refers to the tombs below, as there are no above-ground graves.
Against the walls, there are these carved stones with names and vault numbers. These are of the 19th century vault owners. The cemetery was opened in 1831, right after earth graves had been outlawed due to a fear of yellow fever. Soon though, rural cemeteries (like Green-Wood in my neighborhood) became more popular and many of the burials in the Marble Cemetery were re-interred elsewhere. The cemetery’s website has a really interesting page listing all the cause of deaths of the people buried in the vaults. Yellow fever is notably way at the end, with tuberculosis leading everything.
As there are no graves, the whole cemetery is an open lawn. For the Haunted Picnic, people were lounging on blankets in the shade and listening to a guy singing and playing the guitar. I’m embarrassed to admit I recognized that he was playing songs by Brand New, one of those emo/Warped Tour-type bands I was into back in high school. I guess that’s haunting in a nostalgic way.
I then met another friend in Park Slope in Brooklyn, where clusters of musicians, or just a couple of guys with whatever instruments they dragged here from college, were playing on each corner and outside restaurants.
Outside the Old Stone House in Park Slope, there was the “Accordion Forest.” It was one of many Mass Appeal events that were part of Make Music New York, where specific instruments were invited to collaborate on performances. There was a flute meet up at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, and I even have mine here, but unfortunately it was during work hours.
The accordion players were walking slowly around a rectangle of grass, where there were notes written posters at each stop. It was cool to stand in the middle and listen to all the wheezy music mixing together. I loved all the different styles of accordions (and accordion players), too.
June 21 was also the first day for the Play Me, I’m Yours piano installation. 60 pianos are currently installed around the five boroughs, available for anyone to play (the silver platform shoes, skull jacket, and feathered hat are optional, but probably encouraged). So far I’ve come across pianos in Astor Place, McCarren Park, Grand Army Plaza, Bryant Park, Chelsea, and St. Mark’s Church. There’s been a mix of fairly competent performers, people who may be a little bit insane, children playing one-handed melodies, and somewhat professional people filming themselves.