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Washington Square Park to become venue for 500-harmonica orchestra

Led by NYU’s Jazz Studies, the concert starts at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.

NYU students practice harmonica for the International Day

NYU students practice harmonica for the International Day of Peace harmonica concert at Washington Square Park. Photo Credit: NYU Steinhardt School

A horde of harmonica players — about 500 of them — will play in unison at Washington Square Park on Friday for the International Day of Peace.

At around 5:30 p.m., the musicians from the NYU Steinhardt School, local high schools, elementary schools and the NYU jazz faculty band Combo Nuvo will congregate to play a 30-minute suite called “The Oceans,” written by the event’s organizer David Schroeder, who is also Steinhardt’s Jazz Studies director and harmonica enthusiast. The piece is part of a larger suite about the climate change crisis.

“It sounds like the ocean when you blow and draw on the harmonica,” Schroeder told amNewYork. “Everybody playing together sounds like a bunch of buzzing bees, which is a very positive feeling.”

That’s why Schroeder felt that the harmonica was a natural fit for the International Day of Peace. Music is a language that everyone can understand, especially when words fail.

He’s seen it firsthand when traveling with his band Combo Nuvo to different countries. When he hands out free harmonicas to children, they open up.

“Music speaks louder than words,” he said. “When we started giving harmonicas to kids and showing them how to play ... the kids began to communicate with us on a different level. They weren’t afraid of us and they understood us. Music has a deeper effect.”

The harmonica is a simple folk instrument that anybody can play, you just need to know how to blow and draw on it. For “The Oceans” piece, anyone with a harmonica can take part by following simple sheet music that lists the hole number you need to blow or draw on.

With 500 harmonicas in unison, the hope is to express the musicians’ voices and support not just for peace but for the conservation of the environment.

“We believe that musicians and artists should have a voice in the discussions on climate change, the world and the planet,” Schroeder said. “We’ve never had a political cause until the last couple of years. We want to funnel students’ self-expression into something good for culture and society.”

Those who want to participate still can by going to oneworldsuite.org and practicing on their harmonicas.

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