Washington Square Park typically buzzes with a cacophony that includes passionate activists, frolicking children, lost tourists, and the ever-present splash of the iconic fountain. But this Friday, September 21, the park will be overtaken by the calming hum of 500 harmonicas playing in unison for the United Nations’ International Day of Peace.
This sea of musicians will perform “The Oceans,” an original composition by David Schroeder, director of NYU Steinhardt’s Jazz Studies Program, alongside the school’s faculty-in-residence jazz group Combo Nuvo, who will also play their album One World Suite. The music highlights the band’s global influences to express feelings and fears on the climate change crisis through song. The concert, which kicks off at 5:30 p.m. at the Garibaldi Stage on the east side of Washington Square Park, also features timely discussions about the planet’s ecological health.
How did the idea of a 500-player harmonica concert come about?
The faculty and I decided to get students involved with social issues primarily around climate change, which evolved into the jazz studies faculty writing and recording One World Suite. Last spring, we decided to include our jazz students in this social commentary, but we wanted to make this project as inclusive as possible.
The core of the harmonica players will come from the incoming Steinhardt freshman class—many of whom aren’t studying music—and the remainder will be students from New York City high schools and local community members. I also have a tutorial available online that teaches basic harmonica and ‘The Oceans,’ which is composed specifically for a large group of harmonicas. It’s a pretty simple piece to learn. I’ve been teaching students in classrooms, but everyone is welcome join us and play along if they have their own harmonica in the key of C.
What do you hope audience members will experience?
The blowing and drawing of all these instruments will sound like a big, rolling ocean wave for the audience. It fits in with the other movements of One World Suite which represent different elements of the planet, including the sky and the desert.
Why choose the harmonica for this concert?
The harmonica is an easy instrument to learn. I’ve traveled around the world with Combo Nuvo offering lessons to kids in schools and orphanages, and I always bring a big bag of harmonicas with me to hand out. By the end of the roughly one hour session, the students leave with an instrument that inspires them to continue their music education. It’s a staple of blues and folk music, but I’m trying to bring it back for jazz and make it accessible to the masses through these crucial messages around climate change.
How can artists uniquely support efforts addressing climate change?
Instead of trying to convince people through words alone, music affects people emotionally and has a deeper impact. Jazz, in particular, has always been inclusive and creative through the process of improvisation. For example, One World Suite is composed for unique instruments, including the Mongolian ever buree—an instrument from the woodwind family made from an antelope horn, which draws people together as many have never heard or seen it. We’re using interesting combinations and styles inspired by our travels to create something that expresses different moods and feelings to evoke different climates and regions of the world.