If you wandered into Regenstein Recital Hall at 2 a.m. one Saturday night last May, you might have encountered a 20-person cello orchestra eagerly awaiting their conductor. You would have seen him descending the stairs to the stage to the thunderous applause of the crowd like a boxing champion.
But these weren’t just hardcore cello enthusiasts. They were there to attend the first ever Music Marathon at Northwestern, 26 hours filled with music of all kinds.
Though still in its infancy, the Music Marathon raised over $17,000 last year for its beneficiary, the People’s Music School in Chicago. This year’s Music Marathon, which will take place in Regenstein, is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 30. The event will feature nonstop musical performances until 10 p.m. on May 1. Admission is by donation, and a live stream will be provided via the event’s Web site.
All campus musicians are invited to participate, regardless of their major. That could mean an hour of trumpet playing, a half an hour of a capella or a 15 minute set by your hard rock band. The only requirement for registration is that musicians raise $100 in donations for each 15 minute time slot they play. Registration will continue until all the spots are filled.
“We’re opening the event to non-music majors, so anyone who’s a musician on campus can play,” said Bienen doctoral student Russell Rolen, the chairman of the Music Marathon Committee and one of its founders. “We’re trying to bring people from the Bienen School and from the wider campus together around an event.”
Funds raised by the event go to the People’s Music School in Uptown, which provides free music instruction to almost 600 students both through programs in Chicago Public Schools and through private instruction. Its enrollment capacity is determined each year by how much money has been raised the previous year, and new student enrollment is on a first come, first serve basis.
“It’s madness. People sleep on sidewalks and bring tents to camp out for two and three nights to try to get their child into the school. The line goes down the block, and we have to turn away hundreds of people,” said Bob Fiedler, the school’s executive director.
Because of the Music Marathon’s contribution last year, the school was able to admit 10 additional new students.
For many of its students, the People’s Music School provides an alternative to gangs or other pressures. “We offer violins instead of violence. If this is changing their life in little ways for the better, for us that’s a success story,” Fiedler said.
Students from the People’s Music School will be performing at the marathon on Saturday morning, giving participants a chance to interact with those their charity directly affects.
“I spoke with a cellist who was amazing,” Robin said of one of last year’s performers. “He had to stop playing for five years because he had to sell his cello. The People’s Music School gave him a new cello. That’s a kid that could be in a major symphony orchestra in five or six years, and he wouldn’t even be playing if it weren’t for them.”
According to Robin, the goal behind the event was to create a lasting tradition that would make a difference both in Chicago and here on campus.
“We really want it to be something that unites the whole Northwestern community in music,” he said.