How to Play a Historic Building

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What does 469 Broome Street SOUND like? Photo from Landmarks Preservation Commission Tumblr site.

Structures from New York City’s past are leading vibrant new lives all around us every day. An 1878 military drill hall is now an exhibition space for cutting-edge art and performance; an 1865 firehouse serves as a community media center; an abandoned rail line from the 1930s draws throngs of visitors in its second life as a world-famous public park.

And the hollow facades of the Soho-Cast Iron Historic District are now being used as musical instruments.

On Sunday, June 21 – also known as the summer solstice (and this year, Father’s Day) – the ninth annual Make Music New York will once again cover the city with music. MMNY is a free, day-long event aiming to allow every New Yorker to make music or listen to it or both. It’s given rise to all sorts of one-of-a-kind musical events, and this year one highlight promises to be the “Concerto for Buildings.”

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Here’s an indoor kind of gamelan orchestra.

As the Concerto’s website explains, this endeavor is inspired in part by gamelan music from Indonesia that’s a kind of percussion orchestra:

The Concerto for Buildings concept began as the Make Music Winter SoHo Gamelan Walk, created by composer Daniel Goode. SoHo is known for its large number of 19th-century, cast-iron-fronted buildings. “The buildings make nice, lovely, drum-like sounds,” Goode explains. “The facades are basically hollow, and musicians are attracted to things that are hollow.”

“The wonder of cast iron,” says Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, in a December 2014 Wall Street Journal article about the SoHo Gamelan Walk, “is that you could put on this extraordinarily elaborate facade that was not structural and could be created by a machine, with all manners of architectural embellishment.”

For this Concerto for Buildings, the composers will use the percussive qualities of the buildings (with the help of 24 percussionists), combining those timbres and pitches with a full orchestra set-up in the street! It will truly be unlike any other musical work.

To experience this latest imaginative example of “adaptive reuse” for yourself, just show up at the corner of Greene and Broome Streets at 2 p.m. to witness two New York City-based youth ensembles, Face The Music and Mantra Youth Percussion, perform this 30-minute, newly composed work, in four movements by the four composers Paula Matthusen (winner of the 2014-2015 Rome Prize), Scott Wollshleger, Daniel Goode, and Elijah Valongo, a student composer in Face The Music.

And to learn more about the wonders of cast-iron architecture in the Village, take a look at the many resources on our website.

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Karen Loew

Karen Loew is the Director of East Village and Special Projects at GVSHP.

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