By Kristin Scheel

Candice Camp’s third grade class at Bridges Academy is on the blacktop playground, gathered around a five-foot-tall wind-powered instrument they created using found objects, copper pipes, rubber bands and a bicycle wheel. The children are quiet as the instrument spins, drawing three-armed plexiglass hammers across the copper pipes they have each carefully positioned to produce a random series of sweet, meditative, wind-chime-like tones.

This is the class’s third workshop led by local electro-acoustic composer Sudhu Tewari, in preparation for the first ever Aeolian Day, “a new festival of music made by the wind” brought to you by the Oakland musical group, Thingamajigs. Aeolian Day will be this Saturday, May 17, at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, from 12 – 3 p.m.

“Are those soup ladles?” I want to know.

A chorus of “YESes!” from the class.

“Did you steal those from the cafeteria?” Sudhu teases.

“NO!”

“Maybe he did!” one of the kids teases back.

Most of the instrument is handmade, but some parts are repurposed, like the soup ladle wind catchers that Sudhu found at a restaurant supply store near his house.

“That’s what I do sometimes when I go to stores. I look down every aisle and look at every single thing, thinking, what one of those things might be cool for a musical instrument?” Sudhu, who once spent four months as artist-in-residence at the San Francisco dump, is inspiring kids to find meaning and music in everyday objects.

Thingamajigs Education Director Edward Schocker explains what kind of instrument qualifies as a thingamajig. “A thingamajig has to be created from found objects, or use an alternative tuning system. They have a visual as well as sonic component. There is a sculptural aspect.”

The philosophy of Thingamajigs is drawn from a DIY tradition, influenced by the likes of instrument builder Harry Partch and microtonal composer Lou Harrison, who experimented in music outside of the western tradition. Schocker also places the work that he and Thingamajigs composer artists do within the context of human history: “We’ve always been building our own instruments!”

The Aeolian Day collaborations manage to teach a lot in the process of creating an instrument, from concept  and design to performance. Ms. Camp’s third graders are learning basic elements of physics and construction, and the foundations of music theory. They are learning how to move, hold, blow and strike objects in order to get the most sound out of them, and how to capture the wind.

In earlier workshops, in the classroom, Sudhu explained how to use a bicycle wheel to create a wind turbine
that runs on wind power, captured by the soup ladles. He explained how many ways a copper pipe can make a sound, and how a flute is made. Today is the day their instrument is assembled and tested.

Third graders Cece and Ricardo take turns explaining the mechanics of their instrument. Ricardo says his favorite part was using the pipe cutter to select a length for his copper pipe flute. “Ricardo’s is really long, so it’s the lowest!” Cece explains. Does the instrument have a name?

“Mr. Flutey! The Ringing Machine! The Flute Machine!”

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A kind of Burning Man for the wind, this weekend’s Aeolian Day will feature “The Ringing Machine,” as well as collaborations led by artists Steve Dye, Judy Johnson-Williams, Brenda Hutchinson , Krys Bobrowski, Alex Vittum and David Samas. Other participating schools include The International Community Charter School, Prescott Elementary, Aurora School, North Oakland Community Charter School, and the American International Montessori School.

With any luck, on Saturday, the oval at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park will be windy as usual. There are planned performances, installations and inventions by Prelinger Library, Ranjit Bhatnagar, Tom Nunn, Stephan Haluska and Dan Gottwald. There will be food carts and “music for people and thingamajigs.” Bring a picnic and a windbreaker. This is a free, all-ages event.

Aeolian Day was funded in part by an Indiegogo campaign and grants from the City of Oakland. At the end of the workshop, another class comes out on the playground to test out the instrument, and when the weather vane spins a bit too fast, Sudhu reminds everyone to be gentle.

“You’re the wind, remember, pretend you are the wind!”

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