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On 21 December, New York’s urban cacophony of bleating car horns, screeching subway wheels and wailing fire trucks will take a backseat to organised bursts of music as part of Make Music Winter 2013. The free event to celebrate the winter solstice features 13 musical parades throughout the day in different neighbourhoods.

Public participation is key to the sonic art projects, which span a variety of genres and include some unique approaches: building facades, metal pipes and footsteps all double as instruments. And while some of the parades, such as Thru-Line, a tag-team performance of the Prelude from JS Bach’s Cello Suite No 1 in G major on the G subway line, and Tilted Axes, an electric guitar procession through the East Village, rely on experienced players with their own strings, official musician status is not otherwise required.

Participatory options on the zero-musical-training end of the spectrum include ringing colour-coded handbells when cued in Midtown, carrying boom boxes playing layers of sound in the Fort Greene neighbourhood, and accompanying a vocal performance with transistor radios at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Those with wheels can make music with bike bells in Prospect Park.

Melodica aficionados will want to check out the ensemble of fellow fans jazzing it up between Columbus Circle and Times Square. And for a more medieval sound, there’s Pilgrimage, a procession through Central Park featuring choral compositions from the 13th and 14th Centuries.

Most parade routes are less than a mile long and are scheduled to take about an hour. Among the exceptions are the Caribbean-style festivities in East Harlem and Williamsburg, where maraca-making and music workshops respectively kick things off before the Puerto Rican and Dominican-inspired parades make stops around the communities, with singing and dancing going into the evening.

A limited number of instruments will be made available on-site, depending on the parade. In some cases, it’s necessary to download materials and sign up in advance, and a few require rehearsal. Details can be found online. Regardless of the weather, the first parade will begin at 11:30 am and the last one steps off at 7 pm. Participants are encouraged to arrive on time and wear gloves.

Amy Brader is the New York Localite for BBC Travel.

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