Make Music New York @ Cornelia Street Café, Pt. I – Xylopholks

June 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

On Tuesday, June 21st, CSC and vocalist-curator Jean Rohe will present a troupe of spectacular musicians from throughout forms and genres on the tiny street just outside the Café. It’s our humble addition to Make Music New York, the all-day outdoors concert-giving extravaganza that grips New York City every year on the summer solstice. Among our performers: Xylopholks, costumed ragtime musicians led by composer-xlyophonist Jonathan Singer.

Biggest question first: There’s a lot going on here. There’s the ragtime, and the xylophone, and the costume. What led or inspired you to each of these aspects? What led or inspired you to combine them as you have?

They seem to naturally go together.  I don’t know who figured out to put the hot dog on a bun, but I’m happy they did.  In this case the xylophone really developed in the era of novelty ragtime.  The instrument has always been a little bit of a novelty.  It’s visually appealing and sonically cuts through anything.  In the early days of acoustic recording it was quite popular for its timbre that would cut.  The novelty ragtime repertoire was the popular repertoire of choice by xylophonists of the instrument’s “golden age.”

Now, the costumes is another story.  I wanted something as visually stimulating as the music.  I also love animals and fuzzy creatures.  It started with a big dog mascot and now my closet looks like a circus dressing room of sorts.

The Voice article on you guys refers to you as ‘buskers’. Are you not in the habit of doing paid-type indoor gigs? Is there something about using the  street as a venue that seems especially well-suited (no pun intended) to your style of performance.

Yes, we do paid-type indoor gigs.  I think was we do is most effective for short periods of time.  We used to do a bar gig every Saturday night at 1 AM.  We would just appear from the basement of the bar and play for 8 or 10 minutes.  Everyone would be somewhat drunk and confused.  That was the perfect gig for us.  If you really listen to the music there’s a lot going on, so it can be exhausting to listen to 10 or 12 tunes.

I love playing on the subway because we reach a huge audience and can really have an immediate impact on people.  I see so many people who look like they haven’t smiled in ages break out in laughter.  Kids love us, and they might not make it to the 1 AM bar gig! People dance, people cry, it’s really a beautiful experience playing underground.

I read you did a Fulbright in India. (Which, first off, belated congratulations, those are a hard-won prize). What was the focus of your studies there? What lessons would you say you’ve brought back to your tenure as a costumed street performer?

Thanks!  The purpose of my Fulbright was to do intensive study in mridangam and accompaniment of Carnatic music.  MriWHAT? you might ask.  That’s a drum from South India.  I’ve been interested in Indian music and Indian percussion for the last decade or so. Carnatic music is the “classical” form of South Indian music.  It’s really a life’s study and I’d say two lives for a foreigner.  I found out I got the Fulbright at the same time the Xylopholks started doing a lot in New York.  I decided to do some additional fundraising and bring the group to tour India while I was there.  It was an amazing experience and we should have our tour documentary available soon (Martha, are you reading this?).  The lessons I brought back were many in number.  As a street performer I would say a lot of what I do is specifically informed by the streets of New York.  I thought we could just drop into villages here and there and people would love it all the same.  I think I might have been wrong, although for the most part things went well.

Just take a look at that and imagine the contrast of that and what we might see Tuesday on Cornelia St.

Do you guys do birthday parties? And, on a related note: Do you think giant furry creatures are an asset to music education for children? I think there may be a place for you on PBS (or possibly public access), if that’s a direction you’ve any interest in.

YES! – We do birthday parties.  We do weddings.  We even did a memorial once.  We love doing events like this as I think we bring something unique to people and it’s nice to be employed to brighten people’s days.  We’re yet to play a bris – so if anyone wants to be our first I can give you a deal you won’t say no to.

I got to check out the set on Sesame Street a couple weeks ago.  It would be a dream to appear as an artist on that program.  They seem to get people who are extremely popular artists though, which makes sense.  Who knows though – I would love to do one of those shows.  I didn’t set out to have a kids group, but what we do does appeal to children.  Kids are generally interested in what giant furry creatures are doing.  If they happen to be playing music or teaching music, all the better!

I should mention this Tuesday is going to be an extremely special show for us.  We’re planning on having 3 basses, at least 4 xylophones, a couple of guitars …and more!  My birthday is Wednesday so I’ve decided to pull out all the stops and celebrate.  Bicycles, Xylophone, Shakuhachi – I’m excited.
Xylopholks perform alongside Red Light Ensemble, Shakuhachi Ensemble, Bel Canto Singers and trumpeter Leif Arntzen on Tuesday, June 21st from 4-6pm Performances are outdoors, admission is free. More information at http://www.corneliastreetcafe.com 
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