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Pittsburgh picks up the beat of global Make Music Day

| Wednesday, June 15, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
Timbaleza drum group performs on the street in the Strip District during 2015 Make Music Pittsburgh Day.
Jasmine Kurjakovic
Timbaleza drum group performs on the street in the Strip District during 2015 Make Music Pittsburgh Day.
An informal jam session outside Pittsburgh Winery in the Strip District during last year's Make Music Pittsburgh Day.
Jasmine Kurjakovic
An informal jam session outside Pittsburgh Winery in the Strip District during last year's Make Music Pittsburgh Day.

It was in 1982 that France's minister of culture dreamed up an idea for a new kind of musical holiday, says musician Marlene Parrish of Mt. Washington.

“He and his staff imagined a day where free, live music would be everywhere: street corners and parks, rooftops and gardens, store fronts and mountaintops,” explains Parrish, founder and manager of Steel City Ukuleles, a 5-year-old community group of ukulele players. “And, unlike a typical music festival, anyone and everyone would be invited to join and play music or host performances. We are a part of a worldwide celebration.”

Last year, more than 800 cities around the globe, including Pittsburgh for the first time, staged citywide music celebrations on June 21, the summer solstice, for Make Music Day.

“The ukulele is one of the happiest and most joyful of all instruments. We are proud to join other Pittsburghers in this annual celebration,” Parrish says.

The free and informal outdoor performances last year were staged in parks, alleys, on sidewalks, farmers markets and backyards throughout the city. This year promises to be just as informal, as musicians are expected to sign on up to the day of the event, choosing their locations and times.

“Last year was amazing,” says Jasmine Kurjakovic of Greenfield, who is leading a team of musician and nonmusician volunteers in organizing the event, which is modeled after France's Fete de la Musique. “We had over 40 concerts around the city, and musicians and the public had a great time. The concerts were scattered around the city, so a lot people did not realize they were all connected, but I drove around the city like a crazy person to hear concerts in Squirrel Hill, North Side, Lawrenceville, the Strip, Oakland and Bloomfield. On the way through Lawrenceville, I saw concerts where musicians had taken the initiative on their own and just decided to play outside. It was wonderful.”

The Steel City Ukuleles is repeating its gig from 2015, performing from 6 to 8 p.m. in Schenley Plaza, Oakland.

“At 6:30 p.m., we will give free ukulele lessons to all comers,” Parrish says. “Learn three chords and learn a tune.”

“The vibe this year is more along the lines of getting musicians to take the initiative ... and just go outside and play to celebrate the summer solstice,” says Kurjakovic, who first experienced the day while she was studying in France as a Pitt student. “This festival is still very grassroots in Pittsburgh, so getting out the word about it is key. The idea isn't to plan a crazy day to hear all the music playing around the city; it's more for people to enjoy it as they go about their day — whether they are shopping, sitting at a coffee shop or biking around the city.”

A variety of genres again is expected to be represented, including folk, classical, rock, Eastern European, hip-hop and percussion.

“La Gourmandine (the French bakery in Lawrenceville) signed up this year (as a venue host), which is great since Make Music Day started in France,” Kurjakovic says.

“I remember going to Paris that day with my friends and enjoying free concerts all around the city,” says La Gourmandine's Lisanne Lorin Moreau. “Music is something that brings people together and worth celebrating! It is a wonderful idea to do it in Pittsburgh, and it allows talented musicians or singers to share their passion with the public.”

Pittsburgh Winery hosted a sidewalk busking session last year in front of its establishment in the Strip District and plans to repeat that this year between 6 and 9 p.m.

“It was a great little Sunday afternoon chilling, drinking wine and jamming with friends,” says winery owner Tim Gaber, also bassist with the Buzz Poets.

Gaber is inviting all of the musicians who will be playing June 26 at the winery's Vine Rewind festival.

“I have a feeling it will be pretty cool like it was last year with people like Clinton Clegg, Nathan Zoob, Anthony Jardine, Tim Mulhearn, Kyle Lawson, Isaac Merz and James Dale. Plus, it's my birthday, and so this is a tradition now,” Gaber says.

Pittsburgh music, art and fashion blogger Jason Connor ( returns to showcase rap, hip-hop, R&B and modern soul artists he manages at locations still to be determined.

“I enjoyed how some of the raw street-corner sets came together and showed neighborhoods some of the city's talent last year. It was great to see artists interacting and sharing in their passion for music,” he says.

The Pittsburgh Flute Club will perform from 11 a.m. to noon on the Mt. Washington overlook. Cranberry resident Cassandra Eisenreich, flute and music educator at Slippery Rock University and a member of the club, says she is intrigued by the concept of Make Music Pittsburgh Day.

“I'm always interested in providing meaningful musical experiences for the community,” she says.

Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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