Jackson Square hits all the right notes

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January 17, 2011
By: John Grimley
John Grimley
// The park is the second in the state to be fitted with outdoor musical instruments //

HOLLAND — If you walk past Jackson Square when the weather is merciful, you might hear something that sounds a little out-of-place for a community park.

When you hear the chiming of bells, don’t worry. They aren’t in your head. Jackson Square, at 900 22nd Ave. NE, became the second park in Minnesota to feature outdoor instruments.

The project was made possible by a $25,000 commitment by City Of Lakes Rotary Club and grants from Rotary District 5950. City of Lakes installed the instruments to commemorate the club’s 25th anniversary.

Doug Schmitt, vice president of education for Schmitt Music and the City of Lakes member who oversaw the addition, said the instruments were the club’s signature project.

“The concept of music in the playground is really intriguing,” Schmitt said. “It’s a great vehicle to promote music. It allows musically illiterate people to play with them. The idea is to peak somebody’s interest.”

“We wanted to have a meaningful community project,” added Richard Parrish, another member of City of Lakes. “We thought the instruments were unique, and had good purpose.”

There were seven instruments installed in Jackson Square and each is tuned to the pentatonic scale, which is also used in many wind chimes. The scale makes each note sound similar to the others, creating music easier than if the pieces used the standard chromatic scale. This is important because younger children are the intended audience.

“It sounds like any note goes with any note,” Parrish said. “Even if you’re not a musician, everything you play on these sounds great.”

A couple of the more unique pieces are the glass imbarimba, which was modeled after an African xylophone mixed with a thumb piano, and the manta ray, a metallophone with chime tubes suspended by wire cables.

Jackson Square was chosen to be the site mainly because of the burgeoning arts community that surrounds it.

“It’s an arts designated neighborhood,” explains Schmitt. “That was nice icing on the cake. The park is going through some neat improvements; it’s ideal.”

Edison High School is also nearby. The school is exploring ways to take advantage of the unique instruments. Schmitt said one plan is to encourage students to compose music pieces specifically for the outdoor instruments during the winter. Then the students could practice their compositions on the pieces when the weather turns mild.

“Hopefully it encourages children to explore music more than they would otherwise,” Parrish said. “Music is a common denominator and we’re hoping it brings cultures together.”

“From the day they went up, people have been banging on them,” said Liz Weilinski, a Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Commissioner for District 1. “Even the adults love them. They are fun and give you a nice tune.”

The instruments were designed and built by Freenotes Harmony Park of Colorado, a company that specializes in outdoor instruments. The seven instruments that were chosen were from a group of nine. Schmitt explained that they looked for instruments that were set in concrete and did not have many dangling pieces, as durability was a concern.

“First thing we did was take a field trip to St. Paul to see how their instruments were holding up,” Weilinski said. “They were holding very well. It’s very durable equipment.”

Weilinski added that maintenance of the instruments should be pretty painless.

“They’ve had them in parks out west for a while,” she said. “Our maintenance department actually did call and talk to some of the maintenance people out there. Honestly we wouldn’t have taken the donation without talking to maintenance first.”

The City of Lakes club is interested to see what impact the pieces have on the playground and the kids who use it. They’re funding a research study, in partnership with the University of Minnesota, to try to gauge the reaction.

“We want to see how people use the instruments,” Parrish said. “It can impact our club as possibly doing more of these in the future.”

The main thing the rotary club hopes to see is that the instruments get used.

“We hope this thing will be long lasting,” Schmitt said. “We’d like to keep the neighborhood embracing it.”