Hell's Kitchen Park is not big by New York City standards--the long side of the rectangle runs from 47th-48th Streets--but it's home to a handball court, a children's area with an on-the-ground treehouse under an actual tree, and a main area that has benches lining the fence and an open concrete space good for skateboarding, walking with baby strollers, or as a stage for Make Music New York performers.
We straggled in by ones and twos and sat on whichever benches had room, a few of us here, a few there, listening to the man who was two acts before us play his guitar and sing. I am not a big fan of amplified music that makes it hard to have a conversation with the person next to you, but the other bench-sitters and people standing around seemed OK with it.
The good thing about loud noise is that it creates privacy. All we had to do was walk a few yards to the treehouse area and we were able to warm up without interfering with the performer. It's worth noting, just so you get an idea of his amplification, that our warmup included a full-volume rendition of Siyahamba. It's also worth noting that our warmup was sans piano. Rene had left his keyboard under the watchful eye of his daughter, Gina, who was sitting on the benches in front of the "stage."
After the warmups, there was still another act before us, so we used the time to take photos for the Facebook page. The treehouse was an ideal prop--some of us climbed the stairs and looked out from the landing, others gathered below on the ground.
Our turn. It took some time to get Rene's piano hooked up to the PA system. Then Gary introduced us, and we were off with Siyahamba for real. As it always does, the song made everyone sit up and pay attention.
We followed with a succession of crowd-pleasers--59th Street Bridge, Imagine, Aquarius. The audience shouted their approval after each song. With Imagine, they even applauded after the first few measures, as soon as they realized what song it was. People walking on 10th Avenue stopped, looked through the fence, then stayed. The choir that was waiting to go on after us was off to the side, swaying and clapping to our singing. Little children were dancing around, two of whom, I found out from Gina after the concert, were her cousins visiting from Texas--Rene's brother's children.
After 30 minutes, which we thought was our allotted time, the in-charge man said we had another fifteen minutes, so we threw in in Peace, Salaam, Shalom, The Lion Sleeps Tonight (kudos to Alex!), This Land is Your Land, and Give Us Hope.
The choir who followed us was pretty cool, too. Their dress code was red and black--striking. We sang one number with them--the one we rehearsed with Rene--and some of us stayed to hear their other pieces. They did them all from memory and had a lot of enthusiasm.
The energy exchange tonight was palpable. The audience was loving us, and were loving them back. We truly did Make Music New York.