Jackson Heights will be moving to the beat of a different drum this summer.
Each Sunday, music will fill the air, as neighborhood residents are treated to a free concert as part of “Summer Sundays at the Park.” The series is presented by The Jackson Heights Beautification Group and its committee, Friends of Travers Park.
“Queens – and Jackson Heights in particular – are known and lauded for their diversity, so why not celebrate that diversity through music,” said Edwin Westley, president of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group.
The program was also made possible in part by the Queens Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the Decentralization Program.
The concerts, which last roughly one hour, begin at 5 p.m. on the “78th Play Street,” which is next to Travers Park on 34th Avenue between 77th and 78th streets. The first show was on July 10, and the weekly performances will run through September 25.
“This concert series is a great way for neighbors to get together and enjoy quality music and entertainment,” said Alfonso Quiroz, a member of the “Summer Sundays in the Park” committee. “It’s the highlight of the summer for many of us that live in this area.”
The festival will feature a different style of music from a diverse range of cultures each week, exposing residents to sounds they may not be accustomed to hearing. The styles of music that will be on display include Classic Rock, West Indian Steel Drums, Jazz and South American Fusion.
“I think it is absolutely awesome,” said Shadaby Azam, a Jackson Heights resident who attends the concerts with her five-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son. “Kids get to experience things that they wouldn’t necessarily get to do. The main thing I love about Queens is the diversity it offers. I think it’s awesome that every child gets to experience every other child’s culture. It’s wonderful.”
Residents also appreciated the proximity of the concerts to their homes, allowing families to enjoy the performances without a lengthy commute.
“I think it is great that it’s in Queens, because everything is usually in Manhattan,” Azam said. “It’s great that we can have this stuff locally for our children and we don’t have to go too far to experience it.”
Depending on the week, the audience may receive a workout, with several of the performances including dancing.
On July 24, children were treated to a lesson in capoeira, which is a Brazilian art form that combines elements of martial arts, sports and music, by Raizes Do Brasil, a capoeira academy in Brooklyn.
“I liked the kicking,” said seven-year-old Lucas Monasterio, who visits the concerts each week with his mother. “I liked it because it’s like karate, but we are actually singing too. It teaches you how to dance with the karate.”
While the crowd of music lovers is thoroughly entertained at each show, the experience for the performers is just as gratifying.
“It’s amazing for me in particular that all the kids are here,” said Gabriel Back-Gaal, a dancer with Raizes Do Brasil. “Capoeira really helps me get in touch with my inner child, and I think that’s what it does for a lot of people. To have all these people come out and want to share the culture with us is great. In some sense, it is a performance art, so we love to have people watch us. We love to share it with everyone.”
For many residents, the concerts have had a unifying effect on the community, while still emphasizing the diversity of Queens.
“This means a lot to me,” said Gabriela Monasterio, Lucas’ mother. “I grew up in Queens my whole life, and there wasn’t this much community outreach before. It’s great to see everyone here, united from various parts of the world. I have seen folks from all over. It is starting to feel more like a community now as opposed to everyone being on their own. This reminds me of how lucky and fortunate we are to be a part of New York, and Queens especially.”