Music to the ears

Clubs bring outdoor musical instruments to community playgrounds.

By Cindy Dashnaw • Photos by Tim and Beth Thrift

Usually, the only pleasing acoustics you hear at a playground is the sweet sound of childish laughter — the music of kids lost in their own world of play. But some Kiwanis clubs are adding outdoor musical instruments to the score. Take a look at two harmonious programs at parks in North Carolina and Indiana.

Kiwanis Club of Waynesville
The Kiwanis Club of Waynesville, North Carolina, was facing sizable expenses for repairs to its 15-year-old playground. The structure was made entirely of wood and had nooks and crannies that prevented parents from seeing their children, says Marti Peithman, a club past president. 

She made an appointment with Waynesville Parks and Recreation to see if the department could help fund a restoration. Then fate intervened.


“The day before I went, I saw an article in the paper about them building an all-inclusive, all-abilities playground right next to the Kiwanis playground,” Peithman recalls. “At the same time, Kiwanis was going to be in a contest to win a US$25,000 grant for playground equipment. So we gathered community leaders and media into the rec center and asked for help.”

The Legacy of Play contest, sponsored by Kiwanis partner Landscape Structures, involved getting people to cast votes for their favorite project every day for a certain time period — and the Waynesville project earned more votes than the second- and third-place projects combined, Peithman says. Though the club didn’t win in the final judging, it did receive nearly $7,000, to which members and donors added enough to purchase adaptive playground equipment that any child can use and three large outdoor musical instruments: a kundu drum, a kettle drum and chimes (shown in photos).


“For our club, it’s the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” Peithman says. “Kids of all abilities can play on the equipment with their brothers and sisters. It’s really made an impact on our community. And the support we got from the community for the contest was amazing.”


Valparaiso Sunrise Kiwanis
While vacationing in Colorado, Valparaiso Sunrise, Indiana, Kiwanis Club member Mary Ann Claesgens was musing about how her club could mark its 30th anniversary when she heard something unexpected: the sound of gongs, chimes and drumbeats coming from an otherwise babbling brook. Exploring further, she found large musical instruments dotting the creek bank. 

She knew she’d found her answer.

“Music is so important. It opens so many brain cells,” says Claesgens. “I heard these beautiful sounds and just thought it’s something that would appeal to children, nature, Kiwanis and the community.”

The oversized percussion instruments are built to withstand all sorts of weather and kids of all ages and abilities. Due to costs, some parks purchase only one or two, but the Valparaiso club received enough funds in grants and donations to purchase three flowers (each petal makes its own gong tone), a manta ray metallophone and a set of swirl chimes. 

“We wanted a more orchestral feel,” says Carol Short, the club’s president.  

Short says the club will set aside money each fiscal year for additional instruments. A recent Valparaiso Parks Department activity book praised the “magical music instruments” and said, “The legacy of the Kiwanians and the gift of music shall be cherished by generations to come.”

Click to watch a video about the Waynesville, North Carolina musical playground

Interested in building a musical playground? Landscape Structures can help. Learn more about this Kiwanis partner at

This story originally appeared in the October/November 2019 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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