Accessibility links

Boombox Carolers Create an Alternative Christmas Tradition - 2002-12-20

Certainly the holiday season would not be complete without a little music. For more than a decade the traditional Christmas carols have had some competition from a composer named Phil Kline, whose music is played on the streets of New York and in four other cities. On various nights, hundreds of people carry boombox tape players, each playing part of his Christmas music.

Phil Kline discussed his music recently, which he calls “Unsilent Night”.

KLINE: “A friend of mine said, ‘wouldn’t it be great to go Christmas caroling,’ and I thought to myself, umm, yeah. And then another friend of mine, totally different conversation, said, ‘you know, I always wanted to have a Casio marching band, we could walk around and play.’ And then I suddenly thought, 'my boomboxes, marching band and Christmas caroling!' and it all just clicked!

I thought, this would be great, I’ll write the piece, we can carry them out in the street. And I invited like two dozen friends, I had two dozen boomboxes, and we did this, we did Unsilent Night in 1992. And it just sounded beautiful.

There are four basic parts. So everybody gets one of those four basic parts. It’s like a strand of the texture. If you’re in a choir, you know there’s a soprano part, an alto part, and a bass part. This is sort of like what I do. One guy gets the alto part, one guy gets the soprano part, and some lady gets the tenor part, so to speak!

I think I was thinking about Christmas on several levels at once, but mostly the idea that at Christmastime, people really need a little comfort, they need something that isn’t begging them to buy something. It’s kind of an anti-hype event, that’s the funny thing about it. This is a free piece, I never charge admission for it, and we just go out there and do it, without asking anybody, it’s by the grapevine, it’s very much a grassroots kind of thing.

And like I said, this year it’s going to be done in five cities: San Diego, Vancouver, Tallahassee, Philadelphia, and New York this year, and it looks like next year Atlanta, and whatever, a number of other cities.

I’ve always found this piece, I don’t know, bittersweet, I don’t know what the right word is, but it’s about control and then letting go. I write the darn thing and I work very hard on getting it together, and then everybody starts walking and it just goes.

It’s like a big bejeweled cloud of music that’s just swirling in every direction. I guess it sounds a little bit like snow.”