Up next in our series of interviews with notable, in-the-know locals: Kuang-Hao Huang, artistic director of Make Music Chicago, which descends on the city Wednesday with 175 free performances.
First off: Explain what Make Music Chicago is.
It’s basically a daylong, citywide celebration of music-making that happens every June 21. In Chicago, we’re in our 7th year of doing this. It’s based on France’s Fête de la Musique, which started in 1982 and has now spread to about 750 cities around the world. There will be play-along concerts where people of all skill levels can get together and play. There will also be organized performances featuring professionals for the public to watch. In total, there are 175 performances around the city in 65 locations, so there should be something for everybody.
What’s new and exciting this year?
For us, the most exciting events are the play-alongs or sing-alongs that get everyday, non-professional, or amateurs to come out and play. One of our favorites is the Harmonica Blowout that happens in McKinley Park. Honer, the harmonica maker, donates 60 harmonicas and the first people who come by will also get a free lesson from Joe Filisko, who’s an amazing blues harmonica player. He teaches at Old Town School of Folk Music.
Another big project we’ve been pushing this year is this performance called “Lift Every Voice.” It’s a concert in honor victims of racial violence and hate crimes. It’s a joint effort between Boston, Chicago, and Cleveland. In Chicago, we have 11 string quartets (two violins, a viola, and a cello) playing two pieces in 11 different locations throughout the city at 11:30 a.m. Then, at night, all of those string quartets will come together to play as an orchestra in Wrigley Square at Millennium Park at 5 p.m. We managed to get a lot of the big classical music organizations on board with this, including the Chicago Symphony Civic Orchestra, the Chicago Philharmonic, and the Avalon String Quartet.
Is the idea to make music—both playing and watching it—more accessible?
That may not be the goal of the event internationally, but in Chicago, that’s pretty high up on our list. We used to have an organization called Rush Hour Concerts, and the whole idea behind that was to make classical music more accessible to everybody. It was always free, short concerts to let people dabble in classical music. Make Music Chicago was sort of an outgrowth of that program. We have this great partnership with the Chicago Park District, and I’ve found that we have parks in under-resourced areas that have really latched onto this. It gives those neighborhoods the opportunity to host musicians in a park as a way to activate their community, and it doesn’t cost them anything—everyone involved in Chicago does this for free. So it’s a great way to bring the community together.
What’s your background in music?
I’m classical pianist by trade, and I teach at Roosevelt University at the Chicago College of Performing Arts. I split my time mostly between that, professional playing, and doing this with Make Music Chicago.
Are you participating this year?
Usually I have to run around and make sure everything runs smoothly, but the one thing I do every year is the Sousapalooza play-along in Millennium Park, with the Navy Band Great Lakes’s ceremonial band. I grew up playing trombone, so once a year I pull it out and see if I can still make some decent sounds. For me, it’s a rush to be amongst a group like the Navy Band and march along. You feel like you’re good, even if you’re not.