Fostering Social Connectedness through Local Musical Festivals

By Geneviève Westgate
Social Connectedness Fellow 2018

On a warm spring day in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG), Montreal, you might not be surprised to hear someone playing music on their front porch. Almost every street in the neighborhood has a handful of musically inclined residents. Porchfest NDG gives these individuals a chance to shine and an opportunity for neighbours to enjoy the music and get to know each other — all on one another’s front porches.

The concept of Porchfest started in Ithaca, New York in 2007. It was inspired by outdoor ukulele playing and a conversation between neighbors. They came up with the idea of hosting an annual Porchfest and gathered 20 bands to make it happen in September of that year. The idea spread very quickly, and was soon adopted by many U.S and Canadian cities the following year.

NDG hosted their fourth annual Porchfest on May 19-21, consisting of local bands performing in parks and porches around the neighbourhood. Some of the artists are professionals who perform for a living while others performed for the first time in front of an audience. The music is diverse and can range from country to pop, reggae, rock, jazz, blues, latino and many others.  The beauty of this event is that all are welcomed — just as long as the artist is willing to translate their style to a porch setting.

Photo credits: Michael Kovacs

Over 100 bands were scattered around the neighborhood, playing at different times throughout the afternoon. The Porchfest website provided a map of the neighbourhood, highlighting where and when to find local artists. Families, friends and neighbors gathered together and took a journey, hopping from porch to porch, discovering musical talent from all corners of the neighborhood and musical genres from all around the world.

Throughout Porchfest, volunteers were collecting donations. The funds raised this year were donated to the Multicultural Choir offered by the Walkley Community Centre — a program that teaches children a variety of songs and helps them discover musical instruments. The musical direction of this programming reflects the many cultures and origins of the children participating, and at the end of the session, the group presented a short concert with traditional music from their home country. This is undoubtedly a great opportunity for children to connect together around one similar interest: music.

As people gathered to enjoy the Victoria Day weekend together in the sun, dancing and singing to the beat of the music, something occurred to me. This festival is more than just an opportunity for the public to enjoy live music and discover local musicians — it was also an opportunity for neighbors to get to know each other.

Photo credits: Genevieve Westgate

“This is the most NDG-centric event I have been to all year” said local musician Juliana Just-Costa. “I just got to meet a neighbor that lives a few houses down. It’s great to see a community connect through an event like this”.  Hence, the beauty of music festivals like Porchfest is that you overcome the isolating effects of neighborhood life, in which you politely wave to your neighbors when you see them on the streets but forcibly avoid a long conversation. Fostering positive relationships with your neighbors and community is more important than one would think. Indeed, enhancing neighborhood-based social capital can have a positive influence on residents’ life satisfaction. As such, the more one interacts with one’s neighbours, the more one will experience positive effects on their wellbeing.

Why is music such a powerful social glue? There is something about music that seems to bring us closer to each other and as a community. Research suggests that playing music together may be particularly potent in bringing about social connectedness through the release of endorphins and dopamine in the Pituitary gland —  the area of the brain associated with happiness. Another study demonstrated that listening to music is tied to group processes, such as one’s sense of belonging to a group and positive associations with in-group members. In other words, music enables us to connect with people.

Porchfest NDG occurs every year, on Victoria Day weekend. In the meantime, there is still time to enjoy other music festivals happening in Montreal this summer. Montreal’s Jazz Fest, just passed but there are other great options, like Shows de Ruelle, happening every second Thursday until August 23, gathering up-and-coming artist in local alleyways and parks. Don’t miss out on the chance to engage with your community through the powerful and beneficial medium of music!

Photo Credits: Porchfest NDG