Inspired by France’s national musical holiday “Fête de la Musique,” over 700 cities across the world participated in the community music-making festivities on June 21. There were over 1,200 musical events taking place all over the five boroughs as well as more than 2,250 events occurring across the country. In New York, performances included everything from bluegrass, jazz, South American folk, R&B, funk, cabaret and more. Instruments used in pieces included cellos, guitars, theremins and ukeles. People performed on plazas, sidewalks, stoops, parks and nearly every public space that you could imagine.
And for the first time, 12 street studios were implemented citywide. Street studios are mobile recording studios that are headed by two DJ-engineers who use live sounds from the surrounding areas to record, quick-mix, loop and playback songs that the public can add to with their own voice, sounds or use of an instrument.
Samita Sinha, an organizer for the street studio at Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights, was excited to get the studio out on her home turf. The Indian musician has been living in Jackson Heights for eight years and is inspired by the location and its people. Near the plaza where the street studio was held, there have been many changes over the years, with everything from a cinema to Bollywood theater and an adult theater. There’s currently a food court in the space.
“Diversity Plaza is such an amazing little spot in Jackson Heights,” Sinha said. “People gather in this plaza for a number of reasons, like for support following the Nepali Earthquake or to protest the Bangladeshi government, which gives a vibrancy to the area.”
While she didn’t perform herself, Sinha’s job was to encourage passersby to stop and record sounds or songs that reminds them of home. As a teacher in public school, she understands the importance in getting people to let their creative juices flow.
“It’s so essential, I’ve seen how limited a student can become in social circumstances because of the effect of the arts funding cuts,” she said. “It’s tragic.”
For those who were shy, Sinha knew how to work through it. She noticed that when people were placed in front of the microphone, there’s a moment of total fear. Then, the fear disappears and everyone wants to have their moment of stardom.
Besides, her counterpart Brian Chase made sure there was a constant soundscape emitting from the computer, so members of the public never felt like they had to belt out a perfect tune. In fact, the whole experience wasn’t about being musically gifted but rather displaying expression through music.
“It’s not meant to be incredibly performative or amplified, it’s meant to be a part of the environment,” she said. “It’s not like they are at a karaoke bar with their moment on stage, but it’s more like they are recording into the environment and the sound of the place.”
Following the street studio, the rest of the afternoon was dedicated to various musicians such as the Jackson Heights Community Chorus, AC Haley and Los Hijos de la Gran Puna.
At the end of the day, the 12 studios and the public got together in Dumbo to listen to the tracks created in each area. Even though the citywide street studio program was in its first year, it still accomplished a lot by having everyone listen to the music that makes each neighborhood unique.
“Music has that power to bring people together,” Sinha said.