Are you tired of the continuing daily onslaught of depressing news headlines and political posturing? Looking for a way to mark the end of summer and find a renewed focus for the fall? Interested in doing something positive for yourself, your family, and your neighborhood?
Look no further. A grassroots effort called “Play Music on the Porch Day” will mark its ninth year on Aug. 26. Started in 2014 by Los Angeles-based artist Brian Mallman, the Play Music on the Porch Day campaign asks the question, “What if for one day everything stopped … and we all just listened to the music?”
Participation is simple: On the last Saturday in August (this year it’s Aug. 26), go outside (anywhere — it doesn’t have to be a porch) and play music or sing, alone or with a group. Then if you’re so moved, share a video on social media with the hashtag #playmusicontheporchday. You’re also invited to register your participation on the Play Music on the Porch Day map. At last count, the 2023 observance has 1,200 participating locations in 80 countries.
The Power of Music
I had never heard about Play Music on the Porch Day until a few weeks ago, but as someone who strongly believes in the power of music (particularly music we make ourselves) to build bridges, nourish hearts, and generally make us more human, the concept immediately captured my imagination. I talked to my husband, and we will be participating in our little corner of Missouri by sitting out on our patio on the evening of Aug. 26. He will play his accordion, and we’ll sing a few hymns and folk songs. Maybe a few of our neighbors will join in.
Of course, Mallman says you don’t have to be a trained musician to take part. Play Music on the Porch Day is not about demonstrating your skill or putting on a performance but about using music to connect with others. I recently interviewed Mallman to learn more about Play Music on the Porch Day.
Why did you start Play Music on the Porch Day?
I’m an artist. This is an art piece. I believe that collaboration builds strong connections, and I had been working on creating a global collaborative art piece for several years.
I’m also a father. I see a world where hate and division are used as political tools. My kids need to understand that respect, kindness, and curiosity about others is the only way forward. This project is built on that. Music by nature draws people together. It has the power to transcend borders, cultures, races, religions, social statuses, and lifestyles. For me, a “porch” is a metaphor for a gathering place — a safe place where differences can be set aside, and people can enjoy music communally. Music has the power to create deep connections and lasting memories among participants, and it’s just fun. This project aims to make that happen on a global scale.
How is the campaign going?
Play Music on the Porch Day started in 2014 as a small event. Over the next year, I researched stringed instruments from around the world and used hashtags to contact the people who played them. I discovered far more than 365 string instruments that year, and in 2015 the project reached thousands of people in at least 14 countries. Since then it has grown every year.
What is the benefit of music: learning it, playing it, sharing it with others?
The world is not a scary place. The more you open up to it, the more beautiful it becomes. Music is one of the keys that opens us to beauty around us: the beauty that each of us is a part of, and the beauty that each of us can create.
It’s much harder than we realize to reach outside our circles. It requires work, and if we don’t do the work, we will never interact with people in other circles. I encourage people to do that work because it matters more than ever.
What if someone doesn’t sing or play an instrument?
This event isn’t about performance. It isn’t about entertaining an audience or impressing them with your ability. If you have a voice, you can sing. If you can tap your foot, you have percussion. Go outside and participate. Even if you just hum, you won’t be alone. You will be participating in a global music event, and hopefully making the world a little better. Try reaching out to your community. Invite them to join you. I promise you will discover there are musicians all around you. I also suggest getting that instrument you’ve always wanted to play. Start watching YouTube videos about simple songs. This year you will fumble through a few notes. Next year you will be playing that instrument.
Join the Campaign
After I stumbled across the Play Music on the Porch campaign, I joined the associated Facebook group. The group does what Mallman says: It eschews politics and other agendas for the sake of music and music alone. Musicians of all abilities share videos of themselves and their friends making music. Group members build each other up and discuss music-related news, such as the recent death of Tony Bennett.
The group rules are simple: Be nice; don’t post spam, fundraisers, porn, profanity, politics, or anything else off-topic; and help spread the word about Play Music on the Porch Day. It’s a set of rules I can embrace. I hope you can too.
Music Used to Be about Gathering
There was a time when getting together to play music was not an unusual act, one in need of a special day to highlight it, but something routine that people did for their own entertainment and edification. Instead of going somewhere to watch other people play music or listening to recorded music on the platform or device of their own choosing, people made their own music, often as part of a social gathering. It wasn’t hard to do because music literacy was the rule rather than the exception and people shared a common cultural songbook, unlike now when everyone has his own personal playlist that may or may not have any of the same songs as the next person’s playlist.
Sadly, that time seems to have passed, and these days we are largely consumers rather than practitioners of music. Play Music on the Porch Day is one small way to counter what we have lost as a result. If you are completely, irrevocably convinced that you can’t sing (you’re wrong), go ahead and pull up iTunes or YouTube and sing (or hum) along with someone else. Better to sing with a recording than not sing at all. But please, make your song choices positive, uplifting, and actually singable by the average person. Here’s one to get you going: