A Different Drum

Ben SloanPhoto: Hailey BollingerJust as there have been such recreational innovations as skateparks and bike trails in recent years, there are now “outdoor musical instrument” parks — places that encourage people to come and play music for awhile.

Some are “percussion parks” with such built-in instruments as marimbas, chimes, cymbals, tuned drums and vertically arranged pagoda bells. One company, Colorado’s Freenotes Harmony Park, claims to have provided such “perfectly tuned sound sculptures” in all 50 states and on five continents.

One thing that makes Cincinnati’s new Percussion Park so special is its neighborhood location in a previously vacant lot at the corner of Warsaw and McPherson avenues in Price Hill. It serves as a notable sign that the low-income neighborhood, with its history of West Side conservatism, now is embracing progressive ideas about the arts. That comes as a nonprofit community development corporation, Price Hill Will, works to improve the quality of life for its residents, many of whom are minorities, including families from Central America and Mexico.

Equally impressive is the fact that Percussion Park is the idea of a local 28-year-old Cincinnati musician, Ben Sloan, who created it in true labor-of-love DIY style by making the instruments. A Northside resident, Sloan is a drummer with a degree in Jazz Studies from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. He has toured with the band WHY? and also teaches percussion to students preparing to join Price Hill Will’s innovative MYCincinnati free youth orchestra, begun in 2011 and the subject of citywide acclaim.

During Percussion Park’s recent dedication ceremony, Sloan told the assembled crowd, which included members of the MYCincinnati-affiliated Percussionistas group and their families, “This is so fresh, so new to the neighborhood. Who knows what the lifespan is? I hope it’s forever.”

That opening day was one of inclusion and celebration. The colorful instruments beckoned to passersby. They included a wooden bass marimba, with blue-capped yellow PVC-resonators and attached mallets donated by a British manufacturer of outdoor musical instruments, Percussion Play; several drums repurposed from propane tanks and with cut-out “tongues” for pitch control, plus one larger piece adapted from an old bronze water heater; a vertical vibraphone, or hanging chimes, consisting of gleaming stainless steel tubes; and a large stainless steel mixing bowl, suspended upside-down from a purple repurposed bike rack, that functions as a low-pitched gong. All were affixed onto a concrete pad; some were underneath a pergola. A cedar-chip pathway had been created to lead to the instruments from the sidewalk.

Children from the Percussionistas, part of MYCincinnati’s pre-orchestra training, sat on their plastic orange buckets and banged out rhythms with their drumsticks. They engaged in call-and-response with Sloan, their teacher. A…

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