WESTERLY — On the first full day of summer, with the sun shining brightly for the first time in days, hundreds of people gathered in downtown Pawcatuck’s Donahue Park Saturday morning, then paraded over the bridge and through the streets of Westerly — many playing or carrying musical instruments — as part of the Harmony Trail Reveal and Community Stroll.
Part of last year’s successful Westerly Bricks and Murals project, Harmony Trail features a series of oversized instruments, permanently placed at various locations around the downtown area. The instruments, with names like Manta Ray, Merry and Piper, and Pegasus, were unveiled by Timothy Lebling, a Pawcatuck resident who was instrumental in creating the project, Wendy Brown of the Downtown Business Association, and Richard Cooke, who designed and created the instruments. They’re known as Freenotes Harmony Park instruments.
Lebling, wearing his “P.T. Barnum” coat with gold epaulets (the circus founder “loved a big show”), opened the kickoff ceremony near a sculptured instrument called the Swirl, which, according to the Harmony Trails brochure, mirrors the two towns of Westerly and Pawcatuck, “separated by a river, but working in harmony.”
Playing in the key of C on one side and A minor on the other, the Swirl is dedicated to the memory of twins Colin and Simon Brown, who loved music and the water. “I lost two sons last year,” said their mother, Wendy Brown, as she thanked donors who contributed to the project. “We needed to make something special for the twins.”
“This is such a gift to the community,” said Cooke as he sounded notes on the Swirl, shortly before the stroll began, while Dave Turano and members of the Reggae band Soulshot played upbeat music behind him.
“Now, grab your instruments and let’s start strolling,” said Cooke, as he and Lebling led people out of the park and onto the Pawcatuck Bridge, where members of the Stonington High School Trash Can Percussion played for the marchers. Their first stop was the Westerly Trust Community Skating Center, where members of The Band Room llc’s all-student band, “PoP," played rock ’n’ roll.
Chris Conrad of Moab, Utah, a friend of Cooke’s who traveled across the country to join his “good bro” for the unveiling and stroll, carried a didgeridoo as he walked along.
It was in Utah that Cooke created Freenotes Harmony Park, “a family of instruments that give everyone a way to play beautiful music simply.” The Westerly-Pawcatuck installation is among more than a thousand similar musical parks around the world, according to Freenotes, all intended to break down barriers, unite people, and promote the learning of music.
“This is pretty cool,” said Lisa Gallant of East Providence, who carried an accordion as she walked. “There’s everything from traditional to folk music.”
Julie Gooding of Westerly walked with her grandson, Jerrell Gooding, 6½, who played a small blue drum as he walked.
“The Harmony Trail speaks to the richness, energy and spirit alive in Westerly,” said Julie, “and of drawing people together for something heavenly.”
“We feel like we’ve died and gone to heaven,” said Penny Parkesian of Westerly, who moved to the region with her husband, the folk singer Geoff Kaufman, last year. The Harmony Trail, said Parkesian, is one of many appealing and exciting parts of living in Westerly. Later, at the Westerly Land Trust Community Garden, where Parkesian and Kaufman tend to their garden, Kaufman played a concertina and led the strollers in the Stephen Foster song “Hard Times Come Again No More,” after Cooke unveiled an instrument called Tenor Tree.
“I love this,” said Kaufman, who has played on the Sloop Clearwater in the Hudson River, in solo performances at coffeehouses throughout the Northeast and at festivals in Europe. “It’s a joy to be included and to be a part of this.”
“The land trust is just so honored to host one of these beautiful instruments,” said Jennifer Fusco, executive director of the Westerly Land Trust. “Anyway we can bring the community together is a good thing.”
At PACE RI on Union Street, the Adult Day Center of Westerly, the strollers stopped to listen to members of the Westminster Youth String Ensemble perform while Lebling unveiled Manta Ray, an instrument with 36 aluminum chimes.
“This is the second instrument I ever made,” said Cooke, as he stood in front of the Anne Schwer Memorial Garden. “It reminds me of a ray sailing through the ocean.”
As the parade left Union Street and headed for Wilcox Park, and then the Westerly Train Station, the youth orchestra played “America the Beautiful.”
“Music brings out the heart and soul of the world,” said the Westerly physician Robert Serra as he walked along the route. “It’s so important to the community.”
At the train station, members of the Westerly Band, led by Conductor Alison Patton, played a Souza march as the walkers arrived.
“This could not be any more symbolic of how music brings us together,” said Cooke as he unveiled Merry and Piper, two “bright-sounding instruments” sponsored by Arlene and Peter Piacquadio, the Artists Cooperative Gallery of Westerly, the Newport Charitable Fund and Bricks and Murals. “My dream was always to create instruments that everyone could play.”
At Westerly’s Grey Sail Brewing Company of Canal Street, the last stop on the stroll, former Town Councilor Jean Gagnier, a member of the Bricks and Murals project, thanked “our visionary, Tim Lebling,” before Cooke unveiled the Griffin, an aluminum-resonated metallophone that will remain in front of the brewery.
Australian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Corrine Gibbons, a longtime friend of Cooke’s, reminded people that they are welcome to attend a free workshop with Cooke and Grammy-winning saxophone player Paul Winter on Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Knickerbocker Music Center.
“Paul was the original inspiration for Richard to create Freenotes,” said Gibbons, who has written three musicals and supported “children’s voices for more than 20 years.”
“The workshop will be a great opportunity for people to meet Paul and Richard and to ask questions,” she said. “It’s perfect for people interested in music and finding out how to support music and musicians.”
Gibbons, who traveled from Singapore earlier in the week to meet up with Cooke, called Saturday’s Harmony Trail Community Stroll “a magical, musical meandering through this wonderful town that is Westerly.”