Church groups ‘make joyful noise’ with outdoor instruments


(RNS) – After a beloved Texas church choirmaster died in 2020, his congregation wanted to honor him in a unique way.

The committee of Cross Tracks Church, a United Methodist congregation in the Austin suburb of Liberty Hill, has dedicated a memorial garden to Louine Noble and outfitted it with brightly colored, weatherproof instruments that children can play at outside the church and its kindergarten.

“We received a donation in his honor, and that kind of got the ball rolling to do something special that would unite the kids in kindergarten and Sunday school with our church,” said Pam Turner. , co-chair of the church restoration team. the church’s historic chapel, which is located near the new garden on a six-acre campus.

Louine Noble. Courtesy of Percussion Play

While the 300-member, predominantly white church has the most typical piano and organ inside its new worship center — built in 2014, when the congregation outgrew the chapel — its leaders decided to pay homage to Noble and provide a new musical play space for the children.

Turner discovered the concept of outdoor musical instruments when she took her grandchildren to a nearby park and saw them there.

“Ninety percent of the time, Texas has great weather,” Turner said. “We wanted to make a cute space that would showcase the chapel but be fun for the kids.”

The church’s outdoor instruments were created by Percussion Play, a UK-based company that was recognized by Queen Elizabeth with an award for the company in 2021.

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Jody Ashfield, founder of Percussion Play, and her father and co-founder Robin.  Photo courtesy of Percussion Play

Jody Ashfield, right, founder of Percussion Play, and her father and co-founder Robin Ashfield. Photo courtesy of Percussion Play

Jody Ashfield, CEO of the south London-based company, said religious customers were only a small part of their business, but overall, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are had an increased interest in outdoor music. Sales to religious organizations, such as churches, camps, and Christian and Jewish preschools, increased 70% between March 2020 and March 2022.

“The instruments just encourage all kinds of different people to play together, regardless of their background, regardless of their language and regardless of their age,” he said. “The whole congregation can get together and play outside. Music transcends all boundaries that we find in everyday life.

Lake Aurora Christian Camp and Retreat Center in central Florida added several Percussion Play instruments to its 75-acre campsite this spring. They include a metallophone, which resembles a xylophone, with a book of “high-pressure laminated sheet music” with colored written notes that correspond to the keys of the instrument. Among the songs are “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “Amazing Grace”.

“A garden in the nearby town has outdoor musical instruments, and I’ve wanted to set up something similar for some time,” Steve Bornemann, of the camp management team, said in a statement. “Their instruments are inclusive for wheelchair users, which was important to us so we could make sure all of our guests could enjoy them.”

At Cross Tracks, the memorial garden features indigo and red “Flowers of Harmony,” which can be played with an attached green mallet, and a “Penta Post,” a multicolored collection of chimes attached to a stainless steel column.

The garden was set up in time for Easter, with volunteers organized by a Boy Scout member working to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout. Turner said the project cost about $4,000 in total, including gravel donated by a local landscaper.

The Cross Tracks Church.  Courtesy photo by Jim Turner

The Cross Tracks Church. Courtesy photo by Jim Turner

She said musical instruments were a particularly appropriate way to commemorate Noble. The former opera singer and school superintendent, who died after heart surgery, was a volunteer who started the church bell choir, played in its praise band and led the choir.

“She glorified God through music,” Turner said. “She has been a wonderful gift to our church and the community for that.”

Now it’s the turn of others to make music on the church campus in memory of Noble.

Turner, who claims to have no musical bones in her body, said she even played instruments.

“I have no musical ability,” she said. “But I make a happy noise.”

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