For the past five years on June 21, the summer solstice, Columbia has taken part in Make Music Day, an international celebration that promotes the simple, but often revelatory, act of picking up an instrument and playing it.
Less of a traditional music festival and more of a participatory call to arms, Make Music Day began in France in the 1980s. The idea was to bring all manner of musicians, from young to old, amateur to professional, into public spaces to share in the joy. The idea of free, accessible and decentralized performances appealed greatly to One Columbia for Arts & History — the city-backed, culture-boosting nonprofit — which has spearheaded the programming each year.
“The goal is really just to have organic encounters with music and encourage participating in the day,” explains Lee Snelgrove, executive director of One Columbia. “We don’t oversell it as something extravagant — it’s really just about enjoying the music for music’s sake and having a little fun with it.”
So instead of booking stages and spaces throughout the city, One Columbia offers a few highly participatory tentpole activities and lets individual venues and musicians take the lead on organizing their own Make Music Day programming. The organization is partnering with Rice Music once again to have a piano and performers out at Boyd Plaza all morning, and will return to the Riverfront Park for the second year for Mass Appeal, a family-friendly opportunity for novices and enthusiasts alike to play some music together that happens in conjunction with one of Bierkeller’s frequent biergartens.
For that event, folks are encouraged to bring their own instrument or take advantage of equipment provided by One Columbia to play harmonica together (100 free Hohner harmonicas will be distributed) with Jim “WallStreet” Coulliard leading the way, or strum along with Girls Rock Columbia executive director Jess Oliver on ukulele.
The focus on impromptu and participatory events is intentional. Snelgrove says the idea isn’t to compete with traditional music festivals, or even events like the Columbia Museum of Art’s popular Arts & Draughts series, which also falls on the same day.
“I really want just that causal interaction that to me is much more in line with public art,” he explains, noting that Make Music Day also serves as an opportunity to support buskers and drive attention to the city’s encouraging busking ordinance. “It’s really about that kind of thing happening on a more regular basis. So this is just a concentrated day of to send a message that this is part of our vibrant city.”
One Columbia remains open and supportive of other venues and organizations going big on Make Music Day, including things like the Koger Center for the Art’s classical music and jazz programming in their lobby, but the goal will always be to maintain the laidback and easily accessible nature of the day while providing some national notice of the arts community here in Columbia.
“If somebody wanted to set up a stage and have free music performances throughout the day more formally, we would certainly promote that and be supportive and even that could become what is Make Music Day at some point,” Snelgrove offers, “as long as they kind of keep that spirit of allowing people to make music themselves in some way.
“But we’re not going to be overly ambitious with it, because I think the goals are simple. I want it to feel organic. I don’t want people to think of it as a competing event or a festival, you know. It’s not that. It really is just about the music community sort of representing its role in the city and participating, playing and having fun with it.”
What: Make Music Columbia
Where: Various locations
When: Friday, June 21, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.m