The Chicago variant of Paris' Fete de la Musique may not yet be the day off work it is to the French, but Make Music Chicago is one of the most inclusive and vibrant musical events of the year. Since 2011, Rush Hour Concerts has produced this kaleidoscopic celebration every June 21, coordinating play-alongs and mini-performances at 40 sites across the city with more than 1,000 amateur and professional musicians. We caught up with Make Music Chicago director Kuang-Hao Huang to find out what's new and why we ought to dust off our ukulele and take to the streets.
CRAIN'S: Rush Hour Concerts are free, and Make Music Chicago is welcoming to all. Do you see a parallel between these two organizations?
KUANG-HAO HUANG: They really are for everyone. While Rush Hour is about concerts, though, Make Music Chicago is about getting people out to play or sing themselves. No matter the age, ability or genre, it's all about the joy of playing music.
As a concert pianist, what lights you up about this kind of event?
As a professional, there's a lot of pressure involved. I can't enjoy music on a major stage in the same way as when I was younger. When you're younger, performing is just fun, less self-conscious, which is the thrill of Make Music Chicago.
What are you most excited about for this year's event?
We stole a fantastic idea from Make Music New York. (Chicago composer) Mischa Zupko is writing us a hymn for Father's Day, and anyone can download a free smartphone app that will teach them the vocal parts to the song. The day of, all the apps will be synced up, and everyone will start singing along with their phones, from all corners of the city, and they'll all start walking toward Maggie Daley Park. As you approach the park, you'll run into other singers and the piece will form as everyone converges.
Let's say I'm tone deaf and don't play an instrument. How can I participate?
You can play the Harmonica Jam! For the past few years (harmonica manufacturer) Hohner has donated scores of harmonicas for Make Music Chicago, and our partner Old Town School of Folk Music has arranged a massive, public harmonica lesson. The teachers are great, making you confident you can really play something.