Despite the first festival happening just 6 years ago, the Fête de la Musique has become a beloved Saffron Walden tradition. This week we have asked the Saffron Walden Arts Trust – an umbrella charity which coordinates, encourages, and promotes artistic enterprises of all kinds in the local area – to tell us a bit more about the festival, how it came about and how you can get involved in this year’s special lockdown version, the Fête de la House-Musique, between 5-6pm on Sunday 21 June.
A chance visit to Paris by a member on 21 June 2014 introduced the Fête de la Musique to our world. Fête de la Musique, or World Music Day as it is also known, is marked annually on the 21 June with free public music events in over 120 countries and 700 cities around the world – not including France where there were too many to count!
The concept of the Fête de la Musique originated in France in 1982. Since then the idea has spread across the globe based on the same simple set of principles: that the day is held on the mid-summer solstice and that all concerts and events are free and accessible to the public. Typically this means that the music is brought out onto the streets, often leading to big street parties with musicians, both amateur and professional, performing indoors and out, in traditional venues, in cafes and pubs, courtyards, and other places such as hospitals, residential homes and schools.
In 2015, four members of the Saffron Walden Arts Trust decided to hold our own Fête in Saffron Walden. For all of us it was a huge learning curve, dealing with road closures, timetabling musicians, funding, health & safety, advertising and finding food stalls and volunteers, to name a few essentials. We often felt rather nervous hoping nothing would go wrong and that people would turn up. The day before event, we popped into the Tourist Office and they were so excited that we suddenly thought: ‘It’s going to be OK.’ We started to prepare the 9 venues from 7.30am on the day. Volunteers appeared and set off to prepare each venue; suddenly it was midday. The music began and people came to listen. Perfect weather, lovely venues, food, drink, and lots of music! A huge success.
For the second Fête, three years later in 2018, we introduced the museum grounds as a family venue, expanding the festival to include children’s competitions, a bouncy castle, face paints, tea and, most importantly, ice cream. The number of people in the town was nearly overwhelming and we held the technical side together by the skin of our teeth. The atmosphere was electric with highlights including a photography competition judged by the local Camera Club, a pop-up choir, steel band, drum workshop and the sheer variety of music on offer.
The Fête was not due to run again in Saffron Walden until 2021, but the advent of COVID-19 and the following lockdown has led to all sorts of plans being disrupted, unfortunately bringing about a vacuum of artistic and cultural activity in Saffron Walden over the last few months. Following Berlin’s lead, we have decided to run an additional festival one year earlier than anticipated – a socially-distanced Fête de la House-Musique. Together with cities across Europe we invite you to take part in this big musical experiment by joining us to make music together but apart. Formal performances with a public audience are not allowed but we would love you to bring live music out of lockdown by singing or playing where you can on Sunday 21 June between 5-6pm – whether that be on the sofa, on the balcony, in the shower, on your drive, from your windows or in your garden.
We really want musicians to:
- Tell us if they are taking part by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Ask someone to video or photograph the event so this can go into the Saffron Walden museum’s planned COVID-19 digital archive.
- Tell their friends and neighbours if they are planning to perform so they can sit outside and listen – although it’s important to follow current UK Government rules
- Put out a donation bucket out in aid of the Mayor’s Charity: Fairycroft House
We hope you will all enjoy the Fête de la House-Musique!
Saffron Walden Arts Trust (SWAT) is an umbrella charity which coordinates, encourages, and promotes artistic enterprises of all kinds in the Saffron Walden area. They provide practical support to local artists and performers to help them display their talents, with initiatives such as music festivals, open studio events, and craft fairs.