PAWCATUCK — The soft notes of the Piper, a xylophone-like instrument, drifted across the Pawcatuck River from Donahue Park toward the Bridge Restaurant Monday afternoon, as Dylan Sheak, of Westerly, demonstrated how to play a tune.
The instrument is one of a series proposed for a Harmony Trail, which would link Westerly and Pawcatuck through a number of outdoor instrument installations. The project builds on the spirit of Bricks and Murals, which connected the two towns and states through painted murals that celebrated local history.
Tim Lebling, who served on the Bricks and Murals committee, had asked Sheak, who has a degree in music, to demonstrate the Piper for members of the Stonington Beautification Committee, who were gathered under the gazebo Monday.
He said a number of Westerly businesses had already expressed interest in having the outdoor instruments installed and the project needed locations in Stonington to complete the two-town, two-state connection.
“Today is the start of identifying properties on the Stonington side. We have about a dozen locations on the Westerly side so we really want to fill the Stonington side and make it equally spread out so it’s similar to the murals,” he said. “We want to meet the criteria of places that are safe, places where families can gather” and that are compliant with the American With Disabilities Act.
Lebling said that having a series of instruments on both sides of the Pawcatuck River “actually allows two states to harmonize together.”
The instruments cost $4,000 to $6,000 apiece and are manufactured by Freenotes Harmony Park, of Durango, Colorado. They’ve been installed around the world, “from Fairbanks to the equator,” said Lebling.
“Just recently they went to Puerto Rico to replace the instruments only to find them undamaged from the hurricane and one of the only things still standing on the beach,” he said. “They are durable all-weather instruments and they still have instruments that were installed 20 years ago that are still being played.”
One of the concerns about the project was the potential sound level, he said.
“The decibel level at 165 feet is equal to the decibel level of inside talking voices,” he said. “We wanted people to see these really aren’t that loud and it’s a very soft sound. Also, any two notes that you play are in harmony so it’s really hard to make bad music on these.”
Bringing the Piper, which is installed on a portable stand, to various locations will help convey the concept of the project, he said.
“A lot of folks wondered exactly what we were going to do to the walls in Pawcatuck and Westerly and it wasn’t until we got that first mural on the wall that people understood,” he said. “We have this available for demonstration purposes and we can transport it to anywhere people want to hear the sound,” he said.
Carole Nossek, a member of the Beautification Committee, asked if the installations needed be approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Lebling said it depended on the location.
“We have private entities and public entities and we have two different states. For a land trust property or someting like Grey Sail, it would be like installing a flagpole for them," he said. "We are wrapping in Planning and Zoning with this to make sure that everyone is involved and no one has been left out of the loop.”
Nossek also asked how close the instruments would be placed to apartment buildings and homes.
“I know they’re not very loud but what if people play them at 3 a.m.?” she asked.
Choosing locations far enough away from residences was a top priority, Lebling said. “Location, location, location,” he said. “So the key is to have them in places that are beyond that 165 feet from residents. That’s our first criteria for most of the locations that we’ve chosen.”
Funding for the project will come from a combination of grants and donations, Lebling said.
“We’ll have some fundraising,” he said. “It will be similar to Bricks and Murals. We’ll look for grants and private funding.”
The project’s goal is to reveal of all the instruments on June 22, 2019, synchronizing with the Chorus of Westerly’s Summer Pops in Wilcox Park.
For the inaugural event, Sheak said he had been asked to compose music to be played on the instruments.
“When they are all unveiled to the town the idea is to have some sort of presentation, such as an ensemble at each point,” he said. “I’d like to have something simple written for each and maybe call a couple of musicians in to do a performance on one of the larger instruments.”
Wendy Brown, who chairs the Bricks and Murals Committee, said the project would add another artistic dimension to the two communities.
“It’s a natural next step. We’ve created the mural trail and now we’ll create the Harmony Trail,” she said.
The first Harmony Trail organizational meeting will take place on Nov. 14 at 5:30 p.m. at Brown Realty, 18 High St., Westerly. To see and hear examples of the instruments, go to freenotesharmonypark.com