If there’s one thing to know about this blog and the people behind it, it’s that Justin and I love all facets of New York City. That means loving Jean Georges and Halal Guys in equal measure. Fifth Avenue and the Lower East Side. The Met and Mmuseumm. And when it comes to the holidays, we love over-the-top displays as well as understated celebrations. One of the more quirky and lesser known holiday traditions we enjoy in New York City is that of Unsilent Night.
I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t every night in New York City an Unsilent Night?
Well, okay, yes.
But this Unsilent Night tradition is a little different.
What is it?
If you’ve ever yearned to be part of a band or orchestra and have zero musical ability, then this is the event for you. Composer Phil Kline, who has worked with a bevy of artists, filmmakers and cultural institutions, came up with the idea for a music piece where the audience is also the performer. So back in 1992, he composed Unsilent Night, which is made up of four different tracks. He handed his friends a track each, and instructed them to play it on their boom boxes in unison. Combined the four tracks make up the full composition. Meant to be enjoyed in December, the piece has evolved into a holiday classic.
What does it involve?
Now in its 25th year, Unsilent Night started out when cassette tapes were the norm. Participants would show up with boom boxes, though nowadays the instruments can range from a simple cell phone to a sophisticated sound rig. The tracks can be downloaded for free or streamed live. The larger the number of participants, the richer the sound of the composition. Interestingly, the original score is still best played on cassette as originally intended, so it’s quite a treat to see a handful of participants show up with boom boxes, including some younger participants who likely have never seen or used one outside of this event.
As part of the performance, participants trek with their instruments from Washington Square Park to Tompkins Square Park. The walk is approximately a mile, and the composition is 45 minutes long. The timing enables the entire procession to arrive and gather in Tompkins Square Park, allowing the piece to conclude with all participants present.
Unsilent Night has grown in reach and has now been executed in 116 cities. There’s something thoroughly enjoyable about joining this parade of electronic carolers, walking in step with other New Yorkers of all backgrounds to celebrate a piece of music. Dressing up is optional, but some participants adorned themselves in holiday lights and reindeer hats, adding to the merriment of the event. ‘Tis the season, after all.
As we walked by, some bystanders smiled while others looked befuddled. But most of them? Didn’t even bat an eye. Come on, this is New York City!
If you’d like to participate next year–or better yet–host your own event, you can visit the website for details here.
Pair it with:
Dinner at Miss Lily’s 7A Cafe
Just because Unsilent Night is over, it doesn’t mean the music has to stop. At the southwest corner of Tompkins Square Park you can’t miss the brightly colored Miss Lily’s 7A Cafe. The East Village outpost of the SoHo original serves up the same reliable Jamaican fare in a bright, inviting space. (Instagram fiends, rejoice!) But the food is always priority number one, and the curries and stews here are a salve in the winter. An added bonus? It’s the only restaurant I’ve wanted to buy a soundtrack album from. Fill your night with good eats and good beats.
109 Avenue A
Mon – Wed 12 noon – 12 am
Thu – Fri 12 noon – 2 am
Sat – 11 am – 2 am
Sun – 11 am – 12 am
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