Bang on a Can is a dynamic and multi-faceted contemporary classical music organization that grew out of what was a once day music marathon concert in 1987 at a Soho Gallery. It was founded by three American composers – Julia Wolfe, David Lang, and Michael Gordon – who still act as the artistic directors of the organization.

Bang on a Can is building a world in which powerful new musical ideas flow freely across all genres and borders. 31 years later Bang continues to shake up the world of music with its adventurous programs, performances, development of new audiences, and educating the musicians of the future.

“We started Bang on a Can as a way toward realizing the world we wanted to live in. It would be a kind of utopia for music: all the boundaries between composers would come down, all the boundaries between genres would come down, all the boundaries between musicians and audience would come down. Then we started trying to build it. Building a utopia is a political act – it pushes people to change. It is also an act of resistance to the things that keep us apart, and it is an act of love, bringing ideas and sounds and people together. This year we are returning to downtown NYC, home first of Charles Ives and Edgard Varese and Elliott Carter and then Steve Reich and Meredith Monk and Thelonious Monk and Philip Glass and Henry Threadgill and La Monte Young and Ornette Coleman and Laurie Anderson – where American experimental music was born. It happened right here. And it’s still happening here. Please join us, in a 10-hour marathon concert of radical creativity.” – Bang on a Can co-founders Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe

This Year's Lineup, in Playlist Form

Bang on a Can put together a YouTube playlist with some of the performers for the 2018 marathon… basically it’s the world’s coolest mixtape.

Music For All

Since the Bang on a Can marathon is free, consider sending some cash to these music charities!

Music is something that everyone deserves to have access to. Learning to play an instrument has powerful and life-long benefits for our brains (check out this New York Times article, “Long-Term Benefits of Music Lessons“).

Here are some nonprofit organizations with music education for all at their core, working to supplement the lack of arts education in public schools as budgets for arts and humanities continue to get cut.

Education Through Music

Education Through Music (ETM) partners with inner-city schools to provide music as a core subject for all children, and utilizes music education as a catalyst to improve academic achievement, as well as motivation for school and self-confidence.

Girls Rock Camp Alliance

The Girls Rock Camp Alliance is actually several music camps working within similar frameworks throughout the world to foster unity, positive approaches, diversity, and integrity as a basis in music for young girls. Throughout the week of camp, girls learn instruments, form bands, and write and perform their own songs. Counselors are trained to help campers learn in varying ways that work best for them. Growing out of the punk premise that established rules, institutions and ideas deserve undercutting, the GRCA works against sexist ideas that exist within the music world.

Hungry for Music

Hungry For Music started out as a homeless benefit concert back in 1992 with street musicians and other local musical talent in the Washington D.C. area, and has evolved into a national organization which has delivered 10,000 instruments to children in 48 states and 20 countries. Built on the belief that the sharing of instruments and musical experiences can act as a catalyst to freedom and self-discovery, Hungry For Music benefits underprivileged children by inspiring them through the arts. To Hungry For Music, an instrument is not a mere noise-making object, but a key to opening endless possibilities and new directions in the lives of kids who may not feel they have the support they need to grow and develop in life.

The Roots of Music

The Roots of Music provides music history and theory education, as well as lessons in performance and ensemble playing. It also provides round-trip transportation and hot meals. While it currently only serves about 100 students, it hopes to continue growing.

VH1 Save the Music

VH1 Save the Music’s stated objective is to give every child in America access to a musical instrument. The local school district identifies a school that would qualify, and if approved after the application process the school is offered a $30,000 grant package and can choose between “band,” “string,” “guitar lab,” “keyboard lab” and “mariachi” instrument packages. 

Practice Makes Perfect

If you don’t already play an instrument, now’s the perfect time to pick one up, or learn something new. Adults benefit from music lessons too! Just don’t forget to practice. Here’s some takes on it from the New York Times:

In Middle Age, Reviving Dreams of Playing Music

Music Lessons on Webcams Grow in Popularity

Opinion | The Benefits of Failing at French

Office Hours with Julia Wolfe and Kwami Coleman

Julia Wolfe and Kwami Coleman (NYU) discuss labor, identity, inspiration, and collaboration, in this EP-length Office Hours video.

(Professor Coleman is a musician as well, listen to his latest!)

Music Straight from the heart

On their new album, Bang on a Can All-Stars wear stethoscopes to perform music by Arcade Fire member Richard Reed Parry.

Parry’s “The Brief And Neverending Blur” – a highlight of the new album More Field Recordings from the Bang on a Can All-Stars — explores similar musical turf, with the musicians once again donning stethoscopes. Much of the piece revolves around sustained piano chords, some played by Bang on a Can pianist Vicky Chow, and others prerecorded by Parry in rhythm with his breathing.

Read the full article and listen to the song here.

The Possibilities of Music: Community, Connection, and Health

The Spread of the Community Music Idea” by Peter W. Dykema

Never before have there been such widespread efforts to give everybody the opportunity of hearing an abundance of music. Free concerts by bands and orchestras during the summer season; free or low priced concerts by bands or orchestras, popular priced opera, free organ recitals during the winter; organizations, open demonstrations of the wonderful possibilities of mechanical music producers; the use of these same instruments in countless homes — these are all the indications of the tremendous development opportunities…..

This quote sounds like something that could be said even now about the growth of music throughout communities but in reality this article was written over 100 years ago. It was written in 1916 by a Professor of Music at the University of Wisconsin.  The article below discusses how far the idea of community music has truly spread. You can compare and contrast information from both to come to your own conclusions about the current state of community music.

Community Music in the United States: An Overview of Origins and Evolution” by Mary A. Legar

Interconnected Musical Networks: Toward a Theoretical Framework” by Gil Weinberg

Music Health and Well Being: A Review” by Raymond A. R. MacDonald

Extra Credit: Bang on a Can All-Stars Visit Elmwood City!

In this episode of "Arthur," Muffy and Francine attend a Bang on a Can All-Stars performance. It's like nothing they've ever heard before!