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Religious groups are ‘making a joyful noise’ with outdoor instruments

‘We wanted to make a pretty area that would enhance the chapel but be fun for the children,’ said a leader of a Texas church.

Children play in the new music garden at Cross Tracks Church in Liberty Hill, Texas. Photo courtesy of Percussion Play

(RNS) — After a beloved choirmaster of a Texas church died in 2020, her congregation wanted to honor her in a unique way.

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

“We were given a donation in her honor, and it kind of started the ball rolling for doing something special that would unite the preschool and the Sunday school kids with our church,” said Pam Turner, co-chair of the restoration team for the church’s historic chapel, which is located near the new garden on a six-acre campus.

Louine Noble. Courtesy of Percussion Play

Louine Noble. Courtesy of Percussion Play

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

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

“Ninety percent of the time, Texas has wonderful weather,” said Turner. “We wanted to make a pretty area that would enhance the chapel but be fun for the children.”

The church’s outdoor instruments were created by Percussion Play, a United Kingdom-based company that was recognized by Queen Elizabeth with an Award for Enterprise in 2021.

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

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

Jody Ashfield, CEO of the company located south of London, said religious customers are a small part of their business but overall, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in interest in making music in the open air. Sales to religious organizations, such as churches, camps and Christian and Jewish preschools, have increased 70% between March 2020 and March 2022.

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

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

“A neighboring town garden has outdoor musical instruments, and I’d been keen to install something similar for a while,” said Steve Bornemann, of the camp’s executive team, in a statement. “Their instruments are inclusive for wheelchair users, which was important for us so that we can ensure that all of our guests can enjoy playing them.”

At Cross Tracks, the memorial garden includes indigo and red “Harmony Flowers,” 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 put in place 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 overall, including gravel donated by a local landscaper.

Cross Tracks Church. Courtesy photo by Jim Turner

Cross Tracks Church. Courtesy photo by Jim Turner

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

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

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

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

“I have no musical ability whatsoever,” she said. “But I’m making a joyful noise.”

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