Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, it is said, and while that sounds Shakespearian, it is not. This proverb comes from the play, “The Mourning Bride,” by William Congreve, an English author of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In more modern language, music has the power to enchant even the roughest of people. It has healing and therapeutic powers, and it can also lift spirits and bring together a community, which has become more necessary than ever in these last tumultuous years. Research confirms that experiencing music in nature positively engages the brain, builds social symmetry and creates harmonious communities.
Eufaula, Okla., knows that and has created a public gift for everyone, affecting how you can experience music.
“The Eufaula Music Trail is an 11-piece ensemble throughout historic downtown Eufaula that anyone can play at any time. Music should be interactive, healing and expressive, not passive, static and expected. Ordinary people making extraordinary music — that’s what we hope to accomplish,” said Adam White, Eufaula’s city manager. “The music trail project intends to bring people together and enhance the whole person — mind, body, spirit and sense of being in your community.”
White added, “I had the idea for a music trail when brainstorming solutions to a few different problems in our community — physical health, social isolation from the pandemic, encouraging community participation with our downtown merchants and social polarization, to list a few. These are pervasive issues in small towns across the world.
“The Eufaula Music Trail provides a catalyst to solve many of these concerns. If two things bring different people together, it’s food and music … I can’t cook,” said White, smiling.
In the fall of 2021, the city of Eufaula won AARP’s Community Challenge Grant, one of three awarded in the state. “The city of Eufaula and AARP have built a solid relationship since mid-2020. Joy McGill, the AARP Oklahoma associate state director of outreach, was phenomenal to work with on various projects in Eufaula. I brought the idea up to Joy, who encouraged me to apply for the AARP Community Challenge Grant. I can’t express my appreciation enough for Joy’s work in Eufaula. If every community had Joy McGill as a partner, our world would be a lot brighter,” said White.
The AARP Community Challenge Grant funded 100% of the $28,000 project; and there is no maintenance cost associated with instruments after the initial installation, which cost less than $500 in concrete and labor.
White explained, “We are in the process of installing a dozen artistic percussion instruments — mushrooms, lily pads, giant xylophones, flowers, butterflies and the list goes on. Although we picked the instruments due to their expressive style, we also wanted something easy for everyone to use. So it’s age and ability friendly; anyone can play a drum rhythm!”
The instruments have been and will continue to be strategically placed in pairs to encourage social engagement. They are spaced apart to encourage more walking, as the goal of the installation was to create interaction and innovation in the community to combat loneliness, which has been part of the pandemic/quarantine. Additionally, the music walk project will encourage Eufaula residents and guests to spend more time outdoors, which can help reduce health risks for individuals of all ages. Winter has a hibernation quality all its own; it is to be hoped this trail will encourage locals and visitors alike to wrap up in coats and boots and try their hands at making music.
There is no question that the fun, fanciful and colorful shapes will attract children of all ages, maybe even leading to dancing in the streets. A traditional drum might have put someone off the attempt to play, but a polka-dotted mushroom? Irresistible. Flowers and lily pads? You just might see some little frogs pop up, left by someone who can’t resist adding such a finishing touch. Companies that provide these instruments, such as Nature’s Instruments, feature chime fences and amandindas. Freenotes Harmony Park offers different types of chimes, including a griffin, a harp and marimbas as well. They are the company that supplied the instruments chosen for Eufaula and will provide more and different types when they are needed.
The trail is easily navigated, with instruments placed along Main Street, Pine Avenue, Selmon Road, Foley Avenue, High Street and JC Watts Jr. Avenue.
The hope had been to have a completed project by Nov. 10, but as so many have discovered when it comes to materials and needed supplies, “unfortunately, we are installing the instruments the week of Christmas due to shipping delays. However, once every instrument is installed, we will have an official unveiling on Jan. 7 with AARP,” said White.
Still, there has been interest throughout as the project began, and the excitement has only grown.
Anyone who has visited New York City has seen street musicians and their ability to attract passersby for what can become an impromptu concert. White said this is the hope for Eufaula.
“We are making a big push to have live music for every event in Eufaula. The music trail provides a fantastic opportunity for some local musicians to create one-of-a-kind jam sessions with everyone from kindergarteners to their grandparents. Where else can you find something like this in small-town America?”
White added, “The city of Eufaula expects to expand the trail once we gauge which parts of the Eufaula Music Trail gain the most interest. Once the Eufaula Music Trail is officially unveiled in early January (we can’t keep people from playing them once they see them, which is an excellent problem to have), we will work to have interactive music events with local musicians playing live while everyone downtown can play along. And yes, we are going to keep adding instruments. This is just the beginning of the Eufaula Music Trail. Everyone loves it! The response has been 100% positive and exciting — from retailers and restaurants to churches and families.”
This is evidenced by the complete lack of vandalism to any of the placements and has definitely begun a new way of thinking about what music really is, what it should sound like and what it could be in wholly different ways with many hands, large and small.