We asked our fabulous 2014 fellows to reflect on their experiences organizing special projects for MMNY 2014. Here is the first installment: Susan Karabush’s take on 100+ BPM.
A wedding in Jaipur? There’s a band for that. A funeral in Sicily? There’s a band for that. A festival in Guča? There’s a band for that. A parade on Bourbon Street? There’s a band for that!
Photograph of the 8th New York State Militia Band, Elmira, New York, in Arlington, Virginia, 1861, photographer unknown. From the Band Music of the Civil War Erawebsite, Music Division, Library of Congress. http://memory.loc.gov/music/cwband/cwphoto/0290.jpg
It seems like just about every culture has their own iteration of the mobile band tradition, so it’s about time we started one right here in Brooklyn! A solstice celebration in the big apple? Now there’s BPM! This year, as part of Make Music New York and with the help of Red Baraat and NPR Music, 350 mobile musicians converged on the steps of Brooklyn Public Library to participate in the world premiere of 100+ BPM, written by Clinton Hill resident Sunny Jain of Red Baraat. A double entendre for ‘beats per minute’ as well as ‘Brooklyn public music,’ Jain’s clever title for the piece brings together the spirit of the brass band tradition and the MMNY celebration alike. NPR’s field recording, stunningly directed by Mito Habe-Evans, captures the uproarious joy that we all felt in Grand Army Plaza on the 21st:
What you don’t see in the video, however, are the hours leading up to the convergence. I’ve always been inspired by the multinational histories of brass and mobile bands, especially our own American tradition of the NOLA second line and jazz funeral. So, for my special project as a fellow for Make Music New York, I wanted to bring the spirit of the second line, which aligns so well with the purpose of Fête de la Musique, to my own neighborhood.
The LES-bred Gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello and their infamous cameo in the 2005 film adaption of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated
4 Reasons Why Mobile Bands are Great:
1. No amplification needed! Forget hauling around an amp, mic stands, cables, etc. Brass instruments are designed to be not only loud, but portable.
2. No sound permit needed! If your music is unamplified, mobile, and you’re a group of less than 25, you don’t need a permit to play on the sidewalks of NYC.
3. They’re popular! From high school marching bands, klezmer ensembles, mariachi groups, drum lines to bagpipes, so many musicians are mobile!
4. You can dance! If you can walk while you play, you can dance while you play. What’s better than multitasking?
A traditional Sicilian banda leads the funeral procession in The Godfather (Part II)
To bring all of these awesome elements together, and with the help of the wonderful Sara Valentine who organizes the yearly HONK NYC! Fest, I invited over 200 Brooklyn-based mobile bands and musicians to come join us at Grand Army Plaza on June 21st.
Throughout the afternoon, euphoniously weaving in and out of neighborhoods, over 250 of those musicians made their way from their familiar stomping grounds to Brooklyn’s central plaza, converging for the premiere of 100+ BPM.
My role in bringing together this sundry group of musicians, from drum lines to violins to brass bands, was incredibly rewarding.
While paying tribute to the great american legacy of New Orleans’ second lines, it was important for me to reinterpret what the spirit of the second line means today. All of these groups are so wonderfully unique, it would have felt out of place to ask them all to play ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’. We need a new and distinctly Brooklyn tradition! As part of my brainstorming process, I was aided by Helen Regis’ fantastic essay “Second Lines, Minstrelsy, and the Contested Landscapes of New Orleans Afro-Creole Festivals” in which she writes that what’s erased from representations of New Orleans second lines is “the experiential meaning of the second line for the performers themselves,” gained from the local, neighborhood context of the parade. The most important part of the second line tradition, and the core of what I wanted to express through this special project was that the second line is more than just a party. Rather, its tradition works to counteract trends of socio-spatial segregation, decreasing the fear of local crime through the power of loud, mobile, and collective celebration.
Brooklyn is such an incredible borough, but many longtime residents can tell you how corporate development, city planning, socioeconomic and ethnic segregation all too often divide the people who call this 100-square-mile stretch of land home. Public music might not be the answer to all of these problems, but if it helps us feel more connected to our community, its history, and our borough, then it’s a step in the right direction!
Hundreds of musicians gathered for 100+ BPM on the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza
I’m so grateful to everyone who participated, especially
Alvaro Paulino Jr. and the NYC Mariachi Conservatory
Desmond Hill and the Black & Gold Marching Elite
Gregory Gatewood and the Brooklyn Legion of Sound Marching Band
Osei Smith and the Royal Knights Marching Band
Sergio Carter and the Approaching Storm Marching Band
Shaun Gallant and the NY Sticks, G Line, and Aviators
Stacy Kovacs and Batala NYC
By combining the widely shared, global musical tradition of brass bands with our distinctively national tradition of second lines, I hope that creating Brooklyn Public Music together will bring us a new tradition that celebrates our disparate histories through our shared, joyful sounds!
Learn more about mobile music around the world: Jazz Funerals of New Orleans Balkan Brass Bands Indian ‘Baraat’ Wedding Bands Sicilian Funeral Bands Guca Trumpet Festival Mexican Mariachi Ensembles Activist Street Bands