Family Create 'Gavin's Musical Garden' in Memory of their Young Son To Bring Music and Joy to Local Neighborhood

There was nothing that two-year-old Gavin Wolbach enjoyed more than making his own music. He loved to jam with his father, a professional jazz guitarist, playing the piano, bongos, drums, and xylophones. Following the toddler’s unexpected passing in 2018, his parents, Mikaela and Jason Wolbach chose to channel their heartbreak into a unique and entirely fitting memorial to their young son and the journey to create Gavin’s Musical Garden began.

The Wolbachs knew they wanted to do something that would bring a little light to a terrible situation – something meaningful - and even more importantly, something their ‘amazing little boy’ would have enjoyed.

‘We didn’t know exactly what they would be, but when I was visiting my parents in Ontario, Canada, my mom was talking about a new Percussion Play musical installation in a local park that she hadn’t been to but wanted to visit,’ says Mikaela. ‘So, we went, and when my mom played the instruments, I could see that she was almost transformed - reacting to the tones of the music, and I realized that this was something we should consider. So, the next time I visited, I took Jason, and he played all the instruments to make sure that they were of good quality and sounded appropriate from a musician’s standpoint, which they did.’

Convinced this was the fitting memorial for Gavin, the couple contacted Percussion Play, who made some initial instrument suggestions and put them in touch with a local representative, Sylvia Umbreit of Recreation Resource USA to help find the right location for the memorial music park.

Sylvia tells us ‘The couple’s local township was presented with a proposal for this most generous donation of instruments but declined the opportunity! The family didn’t know how to proceed. Recreation Resource USA has a good working relationship with the Borough of Conshohocken, PA, supplying and installing several large playgrounds within the city’s parks. One park seemed to be an excellent location due to its amenities, central neighborhood setting, and close geographic proximity to Jason and Mikaela’s family home. I approached the Executive Director for the Borough and presented the opportunity, suggesting the musical garden's home should be leafy Mary Wood Park.

After a brief time, I was informed that Conshohocken was pleased and most willing to accept the generous donation of instruments.’

‘It was important to find a place that felt right, important that the setting had something for younger kids – the one, two, and three’s – and when we checked out Mary Wood Park, it just felt like the perfect space,’ Mikaela said. ‘It had sections for both the older and younger kids, and it seemed to be used by all kinds of family groups and individuals, playing or maybe just sitting on a bench reading a book. It just felt comfortable.’

‘The borough was fantastic in every way, and that was so important,’ said Mikaela. ‘We wanted to partner with someone who wouldn’t make us feel like what we were doing was a burden. It was also important that a memorial to Gavin was part of a community - something other people would enjoy. Mary Wood Park was the perfect match, almost like having a picture in our minds that ended up right there, ready to go. We live in Plymouth Meeting, but our address is Conshohocken, and the borough is practically in our backyard, which was also important because it was a place we could easily get to.’

The order was placed with direct shipping to the Borough, and installation was tentatively set for spring 2021. With the Borough’s approval, Sylvia suggested that Michaela and Jason should source a memorial plaque to sit at the site and, once installed, arranged a private family visit to the musical garden before it was formally opened to the public.

‘I was honored to play a part in bringing the family and the Borough together,’ says Sylvia.

Now the century-old Conshohocken’s Mary Wood Park boasts a colorful mix of outdoor musical instruments designed to be played by music lovers of all ages, each carefully chosen by Jason for its quality and appeal. The garden comprises a Rainbow Cavatina and Music Book, Duo, Large Babel Drum, Harmony, Rainbow Chimes, Rainbow Sambas and Tembos.

“There’s one instrument in particular, the Penta Post, that we decided to have because we knew Gavin could have engaged with it and played it,” Jason says. “It – and, actually, the majority of the instruments we chose – uses the pentatonic scale, a very common, friendly grouping of notes that’s often used in nursery rhymes and the traditional songs we think of as standards.”

A recent visit made it clear that Gavin’s Musical Garden is being used and enjoyed by residents – with several young musicians on this particular afternoon enthusiastically playing the melodies from the Music Book that included “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “Amazing Grace.” Precisely the scene Mikaela and Jason had envisioned and hoped to share with their 13-month-old daughter Eloise and the baby they’re expecting in January.

“There’s a sadness associated with it, but we did this to share Gavin’s love of music with others, and knowing that so many people will get pleasure from it…that’s a really nice, warm feeling,” Mikaela says. “For us, there’s just something really beautiful about having this connection with Gavin and with all the others who will enjoy playing these instruments.”

About Recreation Resource USA
Recreation Resource has provided Pennsylvania and the surrounding areas with the industry's most reliable and sought-after brands in recreation equipment for over 30 years. Their experience has led them to be the trusted resource for a wide range of clients, ranging from parks, schools, and churches to architects, landscape designers, and municipalities.

Photos courtesy of Sylvia Umbreit, Recreation Resource USA

Music Memorials

Outdoor musical memorials can vary in size, style, and tone just as widely as the unique personalities of the individuals being memorialized. They are lovely for honoring someone who loved music, the outdoors, or anyone with an adventurous spirit. The Percussion Play team is ready to help you create an outdoor musical community space in someone's memory; call us if you want to know more.

Further Reading: The Healing Power of Music: Musical Memorial Gardens and Tributes for Loved Ones