Brian Wise covers the classical music business for WQXR, including aspects of performance, technology, philanthropy and institutional trends. He manages the station's homepage and makes sure what you hear on air is what you see online. Follow him on Twitter at @Briancwise.
175 Keyboardists Come out to Play on a West Village Block
Friday, June 21, 2013 - 03:00 PM
Pachelbel's Canon in D has been heard at millions of weddings and countless dinner parties but, until this week, probably never on a 175 electronic keyboards.
An ensemble of 175 people performed the Baroque piece Friday morning in the West Village, setting a new Guinness World Record for largest keyboard ensemble.
The event was a kickoff for Make Music New York, a day-long festival of more than 1,000 free concerts across the city to mark the start of summer. Performers stretched down the narrow block of Cornelia Street, as residents, tourists and a small media throng gathered to watch.
The previous record was set in 2011 in Kerala, India, with 136 keyboardists.
Aaron Friedman, the president of Make Music New York, said that despite the event's careful stagecraft, the record was not a foregone conclusion. "I used to do a lot of political organizing and the rule of thumb was that half the people just don't show up," he said, squinting in the warm sunshine. "So no matter how many you have, you always wonder just what's going to happen."
"Everyone came through," he added. "I was very pleased."
Performers were recruited through the MMNY website and the Cornelia Street Cafe, a co-organizer. They included both amateurs and professionals.
After the performance, an adjudicator from the Guinness World Records handed over a framed certificate, though not before a few tense moments. First, pianists had to be counted and timings compared (today's performance lasted five minutes). The performance may have been less pleasing to early-music purists: The Canon in D was transposed down C Major for this arrangement.
Still, the event was a feat of organizational design: five conductors each led a separate group of keyboardists. The ensemble also performed a piece called Broken Record, by the composer Jed Distler, who sat at a grand piano in the center of the block.
After the performance, the keyboards, which were provided by Yamaha, are to be donated to 19 New York City Public Schools. VH1's Save the Music organization facilitated in the donation effort.
Omar Tobar, a restaurant worker on Cornelia Street, beamed as he looked on. "This is nice for once a year," he said. "It's good for the tourists too. Now they have something nice to say about New York when they go back to their countries."