“My Butt Hurt At Times”: Chatting With The Warriors Who Survived All 12 Hours Of The Bang On A Can Marathon


The estimable Bang on a Can held their 23rd-annual marathon on Sunday, throwing out 12 straight hours of new, contemporary and wild music from noon to midnight. Highlights included a German composer who played with his ass, a rocking gamelan orchestra, traditional Kyrgystan jams, and Dutch percussionists tip-tapping on chalkboards. All of which begs the question: Who the hell sits through 12 hours of this?

Matt LeMay, BOAC communications manager, met with all 25 (!) people who made it through the whole day. The demographics aren’t exactly shocking (19 dudes, 6 ladies, one person who doesn’t have an email address), but the group of “Bang on a Can Warriors” definitely defied stereotypes. “Everyone was really friendly,” says LeMay. “You’d think new-music fans would be painfully shy, but everyone was talking… It would have been so great if we made a love connection.”

The group all used different tactics to make it through the day, including one couple who camped out in the same spot and left one at a time to get food or tell LeMay they were still in attendance. Daryl Shawn, a 39-year-old composer based in New York, got through all 12 hours by packing his own snacks. “At no point did I feel a toll–I knew what I was in for,” he says. “I packed bread, artichoke dip, and eggplant… and of course a break for gelato around 9. There was no question. If there was gonna be 12 hours of it, I was gonna hear 12 hours of it.”

Mike Jolkovski, 52, is a psychologist and psychoanalyst writing a book on managing leadership in small music groups. He made the trip from Washington D.C. after doing the 2008 marathon in full. “My butt hurt at times,” he admits. The chairs are terrible. But I made a friend, and we watched one another’s stuff when we needed to stretch our legs, forage for food, et cetera. It wasn’t hard. The all-night ones require one to dig deep — this one was easy.”

“What was shocking to me was the extent people were not tired,” says LeMay. “We did it two years ago from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. — that was brutal. That marathon ended with a 40-minute Stockhausen piece with throat singers. At 6 am, that was surreal, with a degree of hallucinogenic exhaustion.”

“The ’08 concert was a full commitment because I took the train up and back and had no lodging, nowhere to go but stay up all night,” says Jolkovski. “I was strapped in for the full ride for good or ill. So, 2010 was a matinee by comparison.”

And at the end? “It was a certain type of exhilaration walking outside and hearing silence,” Shawn says. “It was a striking thing. It was like another piece. Here’s the silence!”