Modesto Rotary Club creates free-to-use, open-air music garden in front of the Gallo Center for the Arts

There’s a new sound in downtown Modesto, a city in Stanislaus County, California.

The Modesto Rotary Club (MoRo) has created an interactive, open-air music garden in the grassy courtyard in front of Modesto’s Gallo Center for the Arts. The project is part of the club’s centennial celebration and is a gift to the city and its residents.

Modesto Rotary had long been planning and saving for a project to coincide with its chapter’s 100th anniversary. Then last year Modesto Rotary member and past president Lynn Dickerson met Percussion Play at the Rotary Convention in Toronto where she had the idea to bring a music garden to downtown’s Gallo Center, where she has served as CEO since 2009. The 6,000 square-foot grassy area had been largely empty, used for the occasional lunchtime picnic but not much more.

The club agreed and the project became a collaboration between the Modesto Rotary, Gallo Center, and Porges Family Foundation with local landscape architect Chad Kennedy donating his services.

The music garden is now filled with seven Percussion Play instruments installed on an attractive paved semi-circular staged area surrounded by a wall on which people can sit and listen. There is still a large grassed area for visitors to picnic, making the space perfect for outdoor concerts, drum circles, and impromptu music lessons. A pagoda structure covers the center area, and two cement walkways — one engraved with music-themed designs —radiate out from the center to the main sidewalks. Another walkway runs behind the music garden for concert-goers to use.

The Gallo Center celebrates the diversity of the community by offering an array of affordable cultural events and activities designed to appeal, and be accessible to all and the music garden has now created further opportunities for community engagement.

“People from all over, who maybe normally don’t interact with each other, can come here. Families, downtown workers, people taking a break,” said Phil Trompetter former president for the Modesto Rotary Club.

The music garden has also become part of the rejuvenation of the downtown area, a beautification project aimed to make the area more attractive, inviting, functional and informative for residents and visitors alike.

With a mission to enrich the quality of life in the San Joaquin Valley, the Gallo Center for the Arts provides an inspirational civic gathering place where regional, national and international cultural activities educate and entertain the nearly 200,000 patrons who visit each year. It is also very proud of its arts education program for TK-12 schoolchildren that serves more than 40,000 students annually.

Modesto has a moderately higher than average percentage of residents below the poverty line when compared to the rest of California. With children from the poorest backgrounds up to three times less likely than pupils from wealthier families to pick up and learn a musical instrument, this free-to-use open-access music garden will allow visiting schoolchildren to play the instruments, compose their own music and get a flavor of how it feels to be musically creative.

Lynn Dickerson told us how the instruments will add value to the school field trips. ‘The children can jump out of the bus after a long journey and run off some steam on the grass area, eat their picnics and play on the musical instruments. They can then enjoy the concert inside the venue and afterwards, inspired by the musicians they’ve heard perform, can head back outside to compose and perform their own music.

“We have already witnessed some wonderful performances from members of the 'Downtown Streets Team' to families with little children, musicians, and adults who have stopped to play on the instruments. We’re located in the middle of the downtown area and see lots of foot traffic, so we anticipate lots of impromptu performances”.

Phil added “We have already planned a ‘Brown Bag Summer Concert Series’ - free lunchtime concerts in the music garden from Noon to 1:00 pm, each Friday throughout the summer.

"I just think it's going to be a very inviting and special place that Modesto’s going to fall in love with.”