Saturday, June 18, 2011

Out and About: Events - La Fête de la Musique

In 1982, the French Minister of Culture - Jack Lang - launched something called the Fête de la Musique. It means "Festival of Music" but it’s also a play on words, being pronounced the same way as "faîtes de la musique", which is to say "make music". (Lang loves this kind of intellectual humor.)
     A good friend and political ally of then-President François Mitterrand, Lang obtained for his Culture Ministry double the previous year’s budget, which meant there was funding for this sort of folksy thing. Granted, the Festival doesn’t cost the government much because it’s open to any and all amateur musicians and all concerts are free, whether outdoors or in regular indoor venues. Which means it’s priced right for the Common Man, another battle horse of Lang’s and a major concern of Socialist governments in general.
     All kinds of music will be heard:  classical, jazz, rock, hip-hop, Celtic music, Corsican chants... and of course the proverbial accordion tunes.
     This festival is held on June 21st. And the information put out by the ministry specifies "... you are free to play music in Paris from 6 pm to 12.30 am, provided that you keep to a noise level which is bearable for the neighborhood. You simply need to make a declaration at Police headquarters, by email or by post." What could be easier?

Among places around the globe that will hand over the streets to musicians are New York City and Chicago, Vancouver, London, Lisbon, Brussels, Berlin, Rome, Lausanne, Athens... even tiny Luxembourg. Developing countries have signed on over the years: Rio (a natural, with its samba self), Senegal, Morocco, Lebanon, Madagascar, China and La Paz, for instance. Oman was supposed to have a music festival too, but who knows what will happen now that the Arab Spring has sprung. And then there are places like Medellin (Colombia), where they may be dancing in the streets but I’m not sure I’d venture out in the wee small hours of the morning.

In Paris, all the main squares will be rocking, complete with sound systems and lighting provided by City Hall and the Culture Ministry, hand in hand. Bastille, République and Nation will all be venues, even though they are usually known more as the triumvirate for labor marches and demonstrations. Parks and gardens - Tuileries, Luxembourg, Buttes-Chaumont - will stay open after their usual closing time, which is nightfall. The student-heavy Latin Quarter will be unstoppable, as will the Marais - now the Gay Pride district. The banks of the Seine and the canals will be swimming in music. Café terraces will be serving music as a side for their usual menu. Even the fire stations get in on the action, firemen evidently being a musical lot.

And then of course there’s Montmartre, where I live. Which reminds me of a story that happened two Fêtes de Musique’s ago.

Carol and Leslie came to Paris to visit and tour a bit. My apartment is small and they elected to stay at a hotel, so I booked them into the hotel on the tree-studded square just around the corner. All went well on the first few nights. Then the amplifiers appeared.
     The ladies inquired at the desk and were briefed on the Fête de la Musique by a concierge who assured them that it all stopped at midnight. Over dinner I told them to go get their pyjamas and toothbrush and I’d make up the guestroom and the sofa-bed. They assured me that they could handle it. And off they toddled to bed.
     Fifteen minutes later, they were back with their overnight kit. When they’d reached the hotel, reggae music was playing and they thought that would be nice to fall asleep to. Then those musicians packed up, which they thought was the end of the Festival. Until techno music started to blare, volume set on "Stun". A call down to the night desk brought them confirmation that the day guy had been overly optimistic and that music was scheduled to continue until 2 am, at the very least. So back they trudged, beds were made up and we all laughed about it - sort of - oh, say, a year later, when their hearing came back.
As it happens, this year June 21st will be my first night back in the United States. Ironic. (I promise I didn’t plan that.) Although my Paris courtyard remains quiet, I would still be hearing echoes of tunes from that square around the corner. I guess I’ll just have to put on a CD or two, or go find live music somewhere.

Photos thanks to my good friend Leslie Blum, who is the Leslie of the story

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this. It answered lots of questions which I had.
    Apartment in Paris