Across the city, all day long, music fills the air

Melaney McAteer, 4, of Philadelphia, dances to the music of the children's musician Ticklebombs, also known as Shane Walsh, in front of the Kimmel Center.
Melaney McAteer, 4, of Philadelphia, dances to the music of the children's musician Ticklebombs, also known as Shane Walsh, in front of the Kimmel Center. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 22, 2013

With the longest day of the year stretching before her like a field of sunflowers, or a tall glass of iced mint tea, or, let's be honest, an invitation to call in sick, Kathy Murphy got off the train from Chestnut Hill at 30th Street Station and began her daily trudge to work.

It was 8 a.m., and she had to get to a meeting. Murphy, whose job as a program manager of the Diabetes Center at Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania obviously requires seriousness of purpose, is normally on task. But less than a block up Market Street on her way to the office, she stopped.

What was that sound?

Cowbells.

Many, many cowbells. Some real. Some virtual, from a gonzo smartphone cowbell app.

She drew closer. A small crowd had gathered on the Patio, a new concrete park studded with bistro tables and chairs south of the station. They were listening to (and accompanying) a guy in a leather cowboy hat who was playing a twangy guitar and singing Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs."

Murphy pulled up a chair and sat down.

"I have no idea what this is about," she said. "I just like the music."

Which was precisely what the organizers of the Make Music Philly day had hoped would happen.

For 12 straight hours Friday, at venues obvious and not so across the city, musicians of all kinds, ages, and degrees of ability gave free performances.

It was the first time that Philadelphia took part in the summer solstice music festival celebrated in more than 500 cities worldwide, said Roger LaMay, general manager of public radio station WXPN. LaMay, standing on his sneakered toes, launched the event, cheering, "Happy International Music Day!"

The history of the event is simple. It started in 1982 in France with Fetes de la Musique, to celebrate the importance of music in daily life.

Now that the event has arrived in Philadelphia, it is destined to grow and prosper, said Richard Negrin, the city's managing director. Negrin read an official proclamation because the festival was sponsored by the city's Office of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy along with WXPN. His formal words received polite applause. But his accompanying remarks - promising that the Nutter administration would work hard, in the face of budget cuts, to preserve music education for children - raised cheers.

Murphy missed that part. But she met Negrin. Sort of.

She was comfortably settled in her bistro chair, enjoying the local singer-songwriter Scot Sax's rendition of "Silly Love Songs," when a large black SUV came inching toward her on the sidewalk.

Negrin was headed back to City Hall. One of the event organizers politely asked Murphy to move to let the car pass.

Other than this single drumbeat from the powerful, the day's events were wholly of and for the people.

Eliana Lang, 21/2 years old, warmed up by singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" for the entire trolley ride from West Philadelphia to Center City. When she arrived at the Kimmel Center for the 10 a.m. performance by Ticklebombs, however, she climbed into her mother's lap and sucked her thumb, listening to how a pro does it.

Ticklebombs, a.k.a. Shane Walsh, is a 38-year-old indie-folk performer who started writing music for children when his son was born two years ago. He sang several numbers that struck chords with his audience.

One, about the cathartic power of apologies, he explained, was inspired by an incident involving a Nerf boomerang that knocked over his mother's lamp.

Ronin Giberson, 3, of East Falls, a musician proficient in ukulele and drums, bounced on the balls of his feet for the entire concert.

"Getting your groove on?" asked his mother, Trinette.

He turned, pausing only long enough to flash her a grin, then resumed his dance.

"We're happy about this," his mother said, saying she considers music an essential part of her children's education. "The city better pick up," she said.

While dozens of performances took place on the street, giving passersby a serendipitous treat, several required prior knowledge.

Or, in the case of the intimate jazz piano sets at Jacobs Music, an invitation from identical twins Alex and Andrew Love. While their sister Allison, 15, sat outside the store playing Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor on a sidewalk piano, the 11-year-old boys urged strangers to venture up to the second floor.

"Amazing jazz players," the twins promised. "Right inside!"

True enough, upstairs in the cool, dark, emerald-carpeted recital room, the pianist Steve Rice was performing sultry cocktail-hour pieces.

The children's father, Mark, a senior vice president of Jacobs, said the store was a natural venue for the festival.

"At the turn of the century, this was called piano row," he said, explaining that about 18 piano dealers had shops on Chestnut Street between Broad and 18th Streets. Jacobs, at 1718, is the sole survivor.

As a singer-songwriter, Mark Love said, he welcomed the festival and expects it to grow dramatically.

"It was a tough day to have it, on Friday of the week when all the high schools graduate," he said. "For the next two years, should this continue - and we hope it will - solstice will be on a Saturday and a Sunday."

Just then, Rob Stetson (yes, of the hat family) stopped to ask where to make a contribution.

"I thought this was a fund-raiser for a school music program," said Stetson, a professional opera singer before taking up a career in strategic planning for the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Pleased to learn that Allison Love was performing for the sheer pleasure of the music, Stetson said, "Wow! That's pretty cool."

One of the twins handed him a flier listing the day's events.

"I like classical," Stetson said, thanking the boy. "I'll have to check one of these out later."


Contact Melissa Dribben at 215 854 2590 or mdribben@phillynews.com or @dribbenonphilly

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