The Most Musical Days of the Year

By Yolanda Acker

Did you know that there are a number of dates in the calendar that are particularly significant to music and musicians around the world? Here are some of the most important:

21 June. Coinciding with the Summer solstice, Music Day, Make Music Day or World Music Day is celebrated annually on 21 June. Originally known as the Fête de la Musique, the idea originated in France and was developed by the then Minister of Culture, Jack Lang and the Director of Music and Dance, Maurice Fleuret. It was officially held for the first time in Paris in 1982 and has since extended to over 120 countries worldwide, particularly in Europe. The day is marked by hundreds of free concerts, particularly outdoors, in which amateur and professional musicians alike perform for the general public. In Australia, the day is known as Make Music Day.

1 October. International Music Day (or World Music Day) falls on 1 October each year. It was first celebrated in 1975 after the International Music Council (IMC) passed a resolution at its 15th General Assembly in Lausanne in 1973 and was instigated by the organisation’s president, the respected violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999). This initiative was set up to promote music “among all sections of society”, “the application of the UNESCO ideals of peace and friendship between peoples, of the evolution of their cultures, of the exchange of experience and of the mutual appreciation of their aesthetic values”, as well as to promote the IMC’s own activities, organisations and committees, and policies in general. Past presidents of the institution include Australia’s own Frank Callaway (1980-81) and Richard Letts (2005-09).

1-15 October. Our own Academic Director, Dr. Houston Dunleavy has participated in the Daniel Pearl World Music Days, organised by the Foundation set up in the United States to honour the memory of the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and killed by terrorists in 2002. A violinist as well as a journalist, as the Foundation’s webpage explains the Daniel Pearl World Music Days use “the power of music to promote tolerance and inspire respect for difference”. The annual event has grown to include close to 9,000 performances in over 100 countries. Daniel was actually a private singing student of Dr. Dunleavy, who has written two pieces in his memory: Viola Concerto, “A Kiss Before the World’s End” (2010) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCng0vm6z-A and his Quartet for Strings No. 3 , “Absence” (2011), premiered in New York, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6THQE0qjcM.

22 November. Probably the best known is celebrated on 22 November, St Cecilia, who became the patroness of music. There are various theories as to why Cecilia of Rome, who was born in the second century AD, came to represent music and musicians, but the most widely accepted comes from the accounts of her life compiled around the fifth century. Cecilia, a Christian noble in pagan Rome who had committing herself to virginity and to Christ, is said to have silently sung to God on her wedding day, praying that her new husband Valerian would not come near or touch her. Valerian eventually converted to Christianity and Cecilia was sentenced to death. She was set alight for a whole night but did not perish and was eventually beheaded, but not before surviving for three whole days with her head left hanging by the skin!

In art, Cecilia began to be depicted with instruments from the mid-fifteenth century onwards and in 1594 Pope Gregory XIII named her the Patron Saint of Music. Throughout history, many composers have written pieces in her honour to celebrate the day, including Alessandro Scarlatti (Messa di Santa Cecilia), Charles Gounod (St. Cecilia Mass) and Benjamin Britten (Hymn to St Cecilia). The feast and its musical association is also the subject of a book to be published in 2019 by Bryan White, Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Leeds, titled Music for St Cecilia’s Day: From Purcell to Handel (Boydell Press).

November. On a local level, in Australia the ABC promotes Ausmusic Month (or Oz Music Month), a feast of homegrown Aussie musical talent featuring live concerts, broadcasts and discussion about Australian music and composers each November.

So mark your calendars and join in the fun of celebrating the most musical days of the year!

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