Stafford: Sculpture sometimes adds sound

Q. How can you tell if your porch is level?

A. The drool is coming out of both sides of the drummer’s mouth.

- I don’t know that I’ve heard them all.

But as a drummer, I’ve heard most of the remarks that pass for humor among guitar players.

Year in and year out, they drone on, saying the same old things when they could be learning how to stay in tune, getting there in the first place or figuring out a way to keep their wives and girlfriends from showing up at the same performance.

Still, have to admit it.

When I heard about the statue in front of the Springfield Art Museum that seems to bong like a drummerless drum (that is, without regard to the music being performed around it) a question came to mind.

Would a name change to “The Clueless Drummer” be redundant?

Its given name is Square into Circle into Square.

Museum curator Charlotte Gordon likens the clever piece to something from an outsize set of socket wrenches. It was installed in front of the museum in the 1990s after an exhibit of Yellow Springs artist Elizabeth Hertz’s work.

“It was so weird,” recalled then museum director Mark Chepp. “We started hearing these booming sounds when the weather turned nice.’

The sounds seemed all the weirder to musicians, who set up in front of it when they perform for the Springfield Symphony Orchestra’s Lunch on the Lawn music series.

“I’ve done several different ensembles there, and it almost always participates,” Richard York, clarinetist with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, managed to say with his tongue riveted to his cheek.

Coordinator of chemistry labs at Wittenberg University, York describes it as “a welded metal sculpture ... about the size of a tympani.”

As the sun warms it around noon, he said, “it expands unevenly, and when the tension gets release, it shifts and makes a bang.”

Vibraphonist and symphony percussionist Mark Smarelli, whose Good Vibes Jazz Quartet played Lunch on the Lawn Aug. 6, complains that the sculpture is “totally out of time and has no rhythm at all.”

But it has its defenders.

Robin Zimman, French horn in the symphony’s Woodwind Quintet, recalled a time “we played a last note, and a beat later, it put a stinger on. It was right in tempo.”

Joan Herndon, about to start her 17th year with the symphony, also offered a qualified endorsement.

During a June 30 lunchtime performance, she and harpist Sally Kelton were playing a Bach Arioso, when the sculpture “actually toned a B flat, which is exactly the pitch we were on,” Herndon said.

In a typical drummer prank, “It also went off right as we were getting ready to start,” she said. “We didn’t start, because everyone was laughing.”

A compromise position on the sculpture could be this: In terms of music, it is like the like the broken watch that’s right twice a day, often enough that any of us drummers would buy on sale.

The sculpture will sit in with Dr. Tony’s Original Ragtime Band from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Aug. 20, in the final installment of this year’s lunch on the lawn.

By the way, if you need to check about whether your porch is level, give me a call.

Contact this reporter at (937) 328-0368 or

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