On every June 21 since 1982, France has celebrated la fête de la musique! This past Thursday was no different. While the English were (or were not) celebrating the birthday of their future king once- removed, the French were enjoying an evening of melodious festivity.
Created by then French Minister of Culture Jack Lang in 1982, the festival has grown into one of the cultural highlights of the French year. All over the country, and all over Paris, bands, musical groups and single acts – anyone with a hankering to play – can stake out their claim to a town square or a central place and play until their heart’s content.
Originally, I thought this was a spontaneously organized event, but as I recently found out it requires more than 6 months of planning each year. There is a method to the madness. Many city Mayors plan a large concert for their constituents, like the one that was planned in Strasbourg this year but was unfortunately cancelled the afternoon-of due to severe weather warnings. In Paris, local bars and sidewalks, every single corner, is packed each year with musical acts.
In my small corner of Paris, in the Village of Auteuil, we had a small jazz orchestra set up in our central place, where the market sprawls each week as do the antique brocantes from time to time.
The French really seem to embrace this tradition. Parents take their kids out for an evening stroll to soak in the festive ambiance. Friends meet up in local bars or alone the streets to take in a little of the acoustic flair. Some people even picnic.
This year thousands of groups set up in Paris. As the 30th anniversary of the fête here in France, the turnout was impressive. Although it rained rather heavily in Paris during the day, the clouds cleared for us in the evening as the groups began their gigs in the fresh early evening air.
The City of Paris organized an open-air bash at the Jardins de Palais Royal this year. Beginning at 4pm when an ensemble of 40 pianos was given to the students of the Paris Conservatory, the evening’s main event of 5 consecutive bands followed from 7pm to midnight.
The entire festival is entirely free. “That’s sort of the whole point,” my husband reminds me. “The goal is to give every citizen a chance to enjoy and appreciate music for an evening. And to give every aspiring musician a chance to play for an audience. It’s one example of the French solidarity people are always talking about.”
And so it is.