Music Unites has joined with Rolling Stone magazine this summer to present the "In Tune" concert series featuring unplugged performances by emerging and established bands. Brooklyn-based, critically acclaimed indie veterans The Fiery Furnaces, led by brother and sister duo Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger, will kick off the series with an intimate performance this Tuesday overlooking New York City from The Cooper Square Hotel Penthouse. On the road for 12 months, this is the last stop on their tour and the final chance to hear them before they began working on their new album.
"We're honored to have The Fiery Furnaces be part of Music Unites and welcome them to our community," says Michelle Edgar, founder and executive director. "It's exciting to work with a New York based group that shares the same vision as we do and we're excited to work together and support their charitable endeavors."
Proceeds from the event benefit Music Unites Youth Choir, made up of children from the city and its five boroughs in partnership with Young Audiences New York. Members practice weekly and are given access to well-known cultural venues for performances and the support they need to follow their dream and form their talent. Music Unites is proud to announce that the first year has been successfully funded for the choir and the organization is hoping to reach its goal of funding it for three years by fall.
"We haven't done a lot of charitable work or fundraisers. When something really special comes along its nice to be able to say yes," Eleanor says of joining with Music Unites. "The last benefit we did was for Obama before the election so we try to choose carefully. It was hard to say no to this since it's such a great cause."
Music has always held a special place for the Friedbergers and they have a deep understanding of the importance of choirs. They started Fiery Furnaces in 2000, but were actually involved in music much younger being raised within a musical family. Their 2005 album "Rehearsing My Choir" features their grandmother Olga Sarantos reflecting on her life and interacting with her younger self. "Our grandmother was a choir director of her church for forty years and music was always something that was very normal. It wasn't something reserved for a special occasion. We sang at family holidays. I think it's a really important part of growing up."
Along with sponsoring a choir, Music Unites also works to keep music education in schools, something that had a deep impact on Eleanor. Despite being four years apart, she and her brother had classes together. "My brother and I both really valued our public school education especially in terms of the music. We were lucky we went to a public school where we had music classes when we were really young from the age of five to sixth grade. We had them every day or three days a week," she continues, recalling the affect her teacher had on her. "I'll never forget him. He was this old guy who had polio as a child and had a cane and braces on his legs. You would think the kids would be scared of him but we all loved him so much."
With the Music Unites Youth Choir children are given the opportunity to have this same kind of influence on their lives, helping them develop and grow their skills and give them direction.
"It's a shame that all kids don't have someone like that in their lives who can make music seem fun and not scary, not corny, not--just seem really natural. Our teacher was so encouraging to everyone. I think having a role model like that is really important," says Eleanor.
Prior to the Fiery Furnaces, Matthew was a special education teacher and incorporated music into his lessons. "My brother's great gift is as a musician so when he worked in Special Ed it came naturally to him to try and use music as a tool for teaching. Some of the kids were nonverbal so music worked to get things across to them. It was a big part of the curriculum."
Another main focuses of Music Unites is to offer children opportunities for music education, but to engage them in different genres and expose them to the many varieties of music. Eleanor still listens to the music she grew up on, noting memories of Classic Rock Record in Chicago. "I still love Led Zeppelin and the Beatles and The Who and Rolling Stones and all that stuff I've always loved."
When asked what advice she would give to kids trying to make it in the music industry, Eleanor humbly stated that she thinks they can probably teach adults something. "Things are so confusing right now. Young kids probably have an advantage on us. They are born into this new technology that we knew nothing about. We're trying to get our heads around it still. They're going to be Twittering out of the womb. They're going to be recording on their computers and uploading it instantly to MySpace whereas to us it still feels weird to do that. We're still stuck in the old model of the music industry. I think young people have a lot to teach us in the way that the industry is going."
Being through management companies in the past and currently without a manager, the brother and sister have even semi-seriously debated hiring a youth. "We were half joking about hiring a really young kid to be our manager, like a 12-year-old. I think that would be really cool. The young kid manager would decide everything from what our album cover would look like to what clothes we were going to wear, what songs we were going to play. Maybe we'll still do that. You have to be on your phone or online constantly. I don't want to do it. I just want to perform and make music."
The Fiery Furnaces play different from tour to tour, trying to make it a different set. For the last ten shows of the year they have been playing an hour long 30 song medley with quick changes in a way that Eleanor describes to be "like a sporting event." They days leading up to the charity event, the band had several New York performances at Brooklyn Bowl and Mercury Lounge. They've also moved from using lots of keyboards and synths to just playing guitar, bass, drums, vocals and creating a "rock n' roll dance party."
For the Music Unites and Rolling Stone event they will be playing an acoustic set. Alexandra Richards will also be performing a DJ set. While Eleanor calls it a "privilege" to play in front of people, the people watching and listening know the privilege is all theirs.
-By Mara Siegler