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The Spirit of the Fête de la Musique, by Sylvie Canal

Sylvie Canal is Director of À Facettes, and coordinator of the Fête de la Musique from 1994 until 2019.

The Fête de la Musique was created in 1982 by the Ministry of Culture.

When Maurice Fleuret became Director of Music and Dance in October 1981, at the request of the Minister of Culture Jack Lang, he applied his thoughts on musical practice and its evolution, and the aspiration to have “music everywhere and concerts nowhere.” Discovering in 1982, on the occasion of a study on the cultural practices of the French, that five million people, including one in two young people, play a musical instrument, he began to dream of bringing people down into the street.

And so it was, within a few weeks, that Jack Lang, Minister of Culture, decided to launch the first Fête de la Musique, on June 21, 1982, the day of the summer solstice, a pagan night linked to the ancient tradition of St. John’s Day celebrations.

“Faites de la Musique, Fête de la Musique” (Make Music, Music Day), the phrase that became the day’s call to arms, was much more than a slogan. This mobilization of professional and amateur musicians, with new attention paid to all musical genres, became, through the immediate success of a popular and largely spontaneous demonstration, the translation of a policy which intended to grant a place to amateur practices as well as rock, jazz, popular songs and traditional music, alongside so-called serious music.

The free concerts, the support of SACEM (France’s performing rights organization), the recognition of the media, the support of local authorities and the growing support of the population, were to make it, in a few years, one of the great French cultural events.

It began to “export itself” in 1985, on the occasion of the European Year of Music. In less than fifteen years, the Fête de la Musique was taken up in more than a hundred countries, on five continents.

An international success, a social phenomenon (a French postage stamp was dedicated to it in 1998, and a 1-euro coin in 2011), the Fête de la Musique is also a harbinger of new musical trends: the revival of traditional music, the explosion of world music, the development of choirs, the appearance of rap, techno, and musical carnivals… Its visible success in city centers can obscure many other dimensions: it enters prisons, shares the lives of patients and hospital staff, brings together schools and music schools, establishes links and exchanges between the city and its suburbs, strengthens rural communities, promotes the work of several months or a whole year of an individual, a group, an association or an entire community. The Fête de la Musique naturally promotes the democratization of access to artistic and cultural practices.

The success of the Fête de la Musique is first and foremost that of the multiple networks that are active in anticipation of June 21. They can be institutional (such as lyric theatres, national and regional orchestras, chamber music ensembles, and music schools) or professional (such as concert halls and musical cafés) but can also be museums, churches, private companies, railway and metro stations, and many more.

On this occasion, the major amateur federations mobilize their networks throughout France, whether it is the Confédération Musicale de France for brass bands, wind ensembles and amateur practice in general, or A Coeur Joie for choirs. Social and cultural facilities and local associations help reveal new musical expressions. The vitality of the Fête de la Musique also comes from the energies of all the volunteers who mobilize individually to bring to this exceptional day its fundamental share of spontaneity, its allure of joyful transgression.

In the space of two generations, the Fête de la Musique has demonstrated a permanent capacity to reinvent itself, ingenious and lively, coming from an institutional origin, but having chosen – like the song – to live its life in the street.

40 years after the creation of Fête de la Musique, every June 21st in France, millions of people take to the streets, squares and gardens to listen to the thousands of concerts resounding throughout the country. And in the world, more than 120 countries unite in a huge global concert to speak the same language: that of music.

Photo credits: Le Concert de Baisers by Nicolas Frize 1983 (DR); Paris 1982 (Chanteloup), Strasbourg 1985 (DR), and Clermont-Ferrand 1984 (M. Tourlonias); Paris date unknown (DR), Paris 1988 (H. Nicolas), and Paris Gare du Nord 1989 (S. Weber); Paris date unknown (DR), Fiji 2003 (DR), and Philippines date unknown (DR); Paris 1990 (Ph. Cibille)