Making Music For Music’s Sake–In France and the Rest of the World

In the current economy, people have to choose where to spend their money and seem to be affording recorded music less and less. There is a need for new and non-traditional markets.
More than 30 years ago, while working at the national French radio station France Musique, the American musician Joel Cohen proposed to have music celebrations on both the summer and winter solstices, respectively, the longest day and the longest night of the year. The French Minister of Culture accepted only half of his proposal, and on June 21, 1982, at the summer solstice, the first ‘Fete de la Musique’ was born(1).

An objective of the French Ministry of Culture was to give access to people of all social backgrounds, and include all genres of music. Anybody could perform, even if they were not professional musicians. The festival has since become known in English as the ‘World Music Day’, and is celebrated in 110 countries and more than 340 cities all over the world. All cities agree to abide, by a common charter, that this is an absolutely free event. The statistics are staggering: in total, there are more than 18, 000 concerts around the planet each year, showcasing more than 5 million musicians, to an audience of about 10 million people (2).

In France, the June 21st music celebration is known to 97% of the population, one in ten people have participated at least once playing music, and 79% have watched (1). The reason why it is so important there is that government supports it, organizes it and maintains its security; in the rest of the world, it depends entirely on the willingness and the funds of the local organizations and associations, obviously not as powerful as a government ministry.

Europe is already famous for the number of summer music festivals, and for its public support of culture. In France, culture is accessible and offered, even to people with no interest—a good example of this is the quota to play 35% of French music imposed on all French radio stations since 1986 (3)! By comparison, cultural programs are the first to be cut in schools in the US and elsewhere when there is any hint of an economic problem (the French government is also protecting its language, but in America there is no need to be defensive about English).

There is more. The ‘Fete de la Musique’ promotes businesses and tourism, so the financial goal is not completely absent, even thought the festival is for free. Authorizations are given to local businesses to stay open late and sell alcohol to be consumed indoors and out (1). Certain streets are closed to traffic, especially quiet ones with normally few visitors. This gives their businesses a chance to be known. Many other live events are used to attract tourism to a city. Music schools and event organizers get known and France can project a multicultural and inclusive picture to the rest of the world.
From a musician’s perspective, the day is special. It gives an opportunity for unknown and untested bands to be seen and heard. It also gives a jolt of stage experience to beginners, since everybody is welcome. Music schools get a chance to have some of their students performing on the same stage as bigger artists, while club owners go there to find future bands to hire. It put me in contact with the Office of Art and Culture of my own island, Saint-Martin in the Caribbean.
The name of the ‘Fete de la Musique’ is a homophone of ‘Faites de la Musique’. This translates to ‘Make Music’, which is how the festival is also known in many English-speaking countries. If you were around last summer, you probably heard of the ‘Make Music Cambridge’ on June 21st, where 150 local bands performed in 24 designated street-performance locations around Harvard Square (5). This year’s theme is women in music, to acknowledge women who made their way into an activity from which they were excluded (4). We hope you’ll find original ways to celebrate World Music Day this June 21st, 2010, whether it’s in Cambridge, in France, or anywhere else!

By Moana Avvenenti




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