A new musical installation at Rotary Beach will grace the air with the gentle chiming and soft drumming of Freenotes Harmony Park instruments within the next year.
The project is spearheaded by Sue Doherty in honor of her son Pat Doherty, who died in June, 2009 when he was 19 years old. First City Rotary is partnering with Doherty to complete the “Music Moves” project, providing funds and volunteers. Grants from the Ketchikan Community Foundation and Holland America Line also were provided for the project.
In an interview this past week, Doherty said that Pat Doherty “loved music.” She added that he had started playing music in elementary school, and was in “all of the McPherson bands” and the Ketchikan High School pep and jazz bands. He played clarinet, piano and saxophone, and had taught himself how to play the guitar.
When he was about 12 years old, she said, he played the saxophone in the First City Players’ production of “Chicago” and earned his first paycheck for that role.
“He loved, loved, loved music,” she said.
In an email to the Daily News outlining the project, Sue Doherty wrote that “music was his solace,” and included a poem he’d written embracing that feeling.
First City Rotary Public Relations Chair Rosie Roppel, speaking about the project alongside Doherty, said that Pat Doherty was a “great musician.”
Roppel added that Pat Doherty also was the Kayhi student body president and the Ketchikan School Board student representative. In 2008, he graduated as a valedictorian of his class.
Roppel recalled a trip she’d taken as a Kayhi English teacher with a group of students that included Pat Doherty.
“I didn’t ask him to be a leader of the kids,” she said, “but he was a leader and a spokesman for the kids on that trip.”
In the spring of 2009, he’d just finished his first year at Boston University.
Doherty said that after her son died, a fund named “Music Moves” was set up in his memory, managed by the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council. In the intervening years, Doherty said she has been pondering the best use of the money on a project to honor her son.
She was out of town when she stumbled upon the idea she’d been searching for.
“I saw these instruments in Sedona, Arizona,” she said. “We had tried to find a parking lot for 10 or 15 minutes. When we finally were parked, going across the street to the stores and whatnot, they had a couple of (the instruments). And you know, we were a little frazzled from trying to find a parking spot and it was hot, right? And so I’d never seen these and I was, ‘What is this?’ and I started to play, only for a couple of minutes, and my whole demeanor and attitude changed by playing them.”
Doherty described the instruments that will be in the new park, which she has tentatively named the “Peace Music Park.”
“We get the image of a traditional instrument, but these are not traditional,” she said. She listed chimes and xylophones as part of those in a typical music park.
“They’re big and they have mallets that you use,” she explained, adding that there also will be hand drums.
The mallets are attached to the instruments, preventing loss, she said.
“They’re based off the white keys of the piano, so there aren’t sharps and flats,” Doherty said. “So, you don’t have to know what you’re doing. That’s why they sound good.”
The instruments also are tough, making them suited to outdoor environments.
“They’ve got three different layers of material, they’re meant to be outside,” Doherty explained further, adding that they all have an ultraviolet coating.
“The things that will wear the most are the mallets, and I’m assuming they’re going to last five to 10 years and then you can just purchase new mallets,” she added.
One of the concerns that had been raised by community members, Doherty said, was the potential of noise disturbance from the music park.
“At the source, it’s equivalent to a blender or power tool,” Doherty said. “At 10 meters away, it’s like a dial tone. When they (the Freenotes Harmony Park company) tested, they played as hard as they could — the traffic on the highway is noisier than these are.”
She added, “and because they’re harmonic and they’re chime-ish, they’re very soothing.”
She described one benefit of the planned location of the park is that it will be close to the parking lot, so people who might have mobility issues could stay in their cars to listen to their friends and family play.
Descriptions of the instruments and photos can be found at freenotesharmonypark.com. According to information at that site, the “durable, sustainable and perfectly tuned sound sculptures” were designed by Grammy Award-winning musician Richard Cooke.
According to a map at that site, there is one such park in Juneau and several in Southcentral Alaska, as well.
Roppel said that First City Rotary chooses a large “signature” project each year, to be overseen by that year’s president. Scott Brainard will start his 2020/21 term as president in July.
Doherty expressed gratitude that the Rotary group had taken on her project.
“Trying to visualize how I was going to pull this off just on my own was a little daunting, so when Rotary stepped up and wanted to partner, that was like, ‘Oh my gosh, here we go — it’s really going to happen,” she said.
Roppel said the park could be finished as early as August or September, but Doherty said it’s possible it could be spring 2021 before it was complete, depending on how much money is raised and whether a project that Ketchikan Gateway Borough staff are completing at Rotary Beach is finished in time for work on the music park to commence.
Funding for the project still is being raised by First City Rotary, primarily through its annual Duck Race ticket sales.
“My estimate is that this is going to be close to a $50,000 project with all of the expenses and in-kind donations,” Doherty said.
“This is a perfect fit for us,” Roppel said of the project and Rotary. “We needed a project — we wanted a super good project, because we always have really good ones.”
She listed other projects that local Rotarians have completed for the community over the years, including the bridge at Settlers Cove State Recreation Site, a staircase and bench at Refuge Cove State Recreation Site, new carpets in the Pioneer Home and new playgrounds in town.
Roppel outlined ways that people could help with the project.
Donations of labor, materials and construction machine work would be very useful, as would monetary donations.
Roppel said that people can buy Duck Race tickets from any First City Rotarian, and also can purchase them through the App Venmo by sending $10 to rosanne-roppel. Indiviudals with questions, donations and requests for tickets can send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A drive-through Duck Race ticket sales event also will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Tatsuda’s IGA grocery store parking lot.
In her email to the Daily News, Doherty sent a summation of how her dream meshes perfectly with the Music Moves project.
“Our words hold the power of life and death, they should always be chosen to promote, and build-up, not tear-down,” she wrote. “Music has that ability to comfort, calm, inspire, and bring joy to a time and moment like nothing else. Music is not a respecter of age, gender, or ethnicity, and brings people together in all situations from sorrow to joy. Our hope is that many generations will find hope, joy, and food for the soul at this site, Pat would have loved that.”