The latest addition to Tri-Cap’s playground pulled a little inspiration from Blue Man Group.
While there won’t be any preschoolers running around painted bright blue (or at least that’s not in the curriculum), percussion has found its way to the playground behind Tri-Cap’s facility on Third Avenue in Jasper.
At an unveiling Thursday afternoon, children aged 3 through 5 got to make music, banging mallets against a PVC pipe instrument near a corner in the playground. The pipe instrument was made by Jasper High School teacher Fred Routson and his engineering students. They initially wanted to do something musical, Routson said, and were focused on a xylophone or some type of piano keyboard layout. That design would require a cover for rain, so about a week ago, Routson and his students, who he said were partially inspired by Blue Man Group, a performance art company known for playing percussion while painted blue, decided to flip the PVC pipes upward so they were vertical and the rain would spill down to the ground.
“We decided that since this is going in a playground we don’t have to follow the strict idea of what a musical instrument looks like,” Routson said.
A handful of kids ran around the playground Thursday, stopping to bang on openings at the end of the pipes while listening to the tones emitted. Each pipe has colored tape on it and the colors match pitches — for example, blue is the ‘C’ note, Fleck said. Routson and students used a phone application to tell them whether they needed to lengthen or shorten the pipes to pinpoint the proper tone. On Wednesday, Jasper Rotary Club members, Routson and students Noah Heim and Alec Erny placed the instrument in the ground.
“It’s nice to see your project come to a happy end like that,” Routson said.
Tri-Cap Executive Director Joyce Fleck said the color system will help children improve memorization, and since there are only so many mallets, it will also require “waiting your turn” and learning patience. But perhaps more than anything, the instrument provides opportunity for the clients of Tri-Cap, an organization dedicated to empowering local residents to achieve personal and economic comfort through an array of services.
“The clientele we serve is low-income and music lessons are very expensive,” Fleck said. “So that’s kind of out of the question. They can’t get music lessons anywhere else.”
Kathryn Schutmaat, a Tri-Cap Bilingual Center aid who’s also a cellist and will be tasked with teaching the kids some music, said the new pipe instrument will help children learn creativity and get more from music than they would by just singing along.
“They can compose a little bit,” Schutmaat said. “Make up a song.”
Fleck said the instrument brings variety and she hopes maybe Tri-Cap can set up some type of chime system along a fence behind the pipes. There’s also a stage next to the instrument for singing or performances and a bench might soon be placed nearby so students can enjoy the show. But for now, the new instrument stands as a start.
“Who knows what it might inspire?” Fleck said.