Recorder Mass Appeal
part of "Make Music New York"
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Straus Park, NYC

Make Music New York is a live, free musical celebration across the city that takes place 
each June 21, the longest day of the year. 
On that day, hundreds of public spaces throughout the five boroughs 
become impromptu stages for over 1,000 free concerts. 
This will be the fourth time for recorder players to take part in this festival 
and we hope to help raise the profile and increase awareness of our wonderful instrument.

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The first time I performed outdoors, a gust of wind scattered my music all over the landscape. The second time, I clothespinned the pages to my stand so firmly that they wouldn’t have budged in a hurricane. A gust of wind filled them like a sail and sent the stand crashing to the ground.

The third time, I had better luck. On June 21, a windless evening, 45 recorder players gathered in Manhattan’s Straus Park to do our bit for the tenth annual Make Music New York. This event takes place at the summer solstice and features more than 1,200 outdoor concerts in all five boroughs. Our performance was part of Mass Appeal, which has been part of MMNY since 2008. Mass Appeal invites musicians to form ad hoc groups and perform pieces written for one type of instrument. There were 20 such gatherings this year, for players of accordion, guitar, harmonica, French horn, bagpipe, mandolin, piano, double reeds, cymbals and — here’s where we come in — recorder.

Our Mass Appeal was organized by Deborah Booth. Deborah has the nerve of a tight-rope walker. It takes nerves of steel to assemble 45 amateurs at all levels and have them perform for an hour without a rehearsal. As Deborah said later, “We rehearsed by email.” Weeks earlier, she’d sent out the music, asked people to choose their parts and trusted them to practice. As the date came closer, she sent out detailed instructions about repeats, articulation and other niceties. On the night, at the beginning of each piece, she reminded us of key changes, explained how she was planning to count us in, and gave us a clear, rock-steady beat. She heard at once when players went astray and called out bar numbers to bring them back. From beginning to end she exuded enthusiasm and confidence. Deborah’s late husband, Morris Newman, used to say that a conductor who merely beats time does 85% of his job. Deborah did about 110% of hers.

We played music of five centuries — anonymous Renaissance tunes, Dowland’s frisky four-part song “Fine Knacks for Ladies” (no, he wasn’t always in the dumps), “The Silver Swan,” Bach chorales, Spanish dances, Telemann, Bertali, Wilbye and a lovely three-part arrangement of “Shenandoah” by Andrew Charlton. A seven-part Bach cantata called for sopraninos, and here the local sparrows chimed in with a happy obbligato. We ended with the fresh and lively “Hoosier Rag” by Julia L. Niebergall and Paul Desmond’s jazz classic “Take Five.” Did I say Deborah has nerve? This piece is in 5/4, a meter you don’t often see in Renaissance and Baroque music. It has tricky licks, made trickier by accidentals that pop up like startled rabbits. Did I say we hadn’t rehearsed? Amazingly, we started together, ended together, and didn’t sound half bad in between.

Straus Park, if you’ve never been there, is an isosceles triangle of land at the intersection of Broadway and West End Avenue. It has flower beds, benches, and an enormous memorial to Isidor and Isa Straus, the inseparable elderly couple who went down with the Titanic. What it doesn’t have is room for a band. Somehow all 45 of us crowd-ed into the available space, all within hearing and viewing distance of Deborah. Further away, sitting on the benches or standing by the flower beds, was our audience. Some were friends and spouses, but most were passers-by who’d heard the music and decided to stay and listen. None of them seemed at all surprised to see us. Eight years ago, when the Republicans held their convention in midtown Manhattan, a few people protested the platform and the candidate by taking off all their clothes in front of the venue. A reporter brought this up at Mayor Bloomberg’s next press conference. His Honor didn’t turn a hair. “Of course there are six naked people on Eighth Avenue,” he said. “This is New York!” Of course there are 45 recorder players in a tiny park making music on the first night of summer. This is New York. And next year, we players, as well as our city, will be ready to do it again.

— Judith Anne Wink
New York, NY


Copyright 2017, Deborah Booth