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Caltrans captures Cotati’s musical spirit

Friday, April 13th, 2012 | Posted by | 9 responses

As construction winds down on the Highway 101 widening project up and over the Cotati Grade, it’s hard not to notice the giant treble clefs, musical notes and phrases appearing on sound walls, retaining walls and bridges.

Music notes grace the retaining wall of Highway 101 along Commerce Boulevard in Cotati. (Jeff Kan Lee / PD)

The designs, a cooperative project of the City of Cotati and Caltrans, are intended to evoke Cotati’s tradition of musical performance and recording. Dianne Thompson, Cotati city manager and a trained architect, led the way in establishing a visual motif to match Cotati’s culture.

In the early stages of the Highway 101 Project design process in 2007, she sketched musical note motifs and gave them to the Caltrans design team. From them, the Caltrans design team developed a detailed plan for the artwork.

“The idea was to reflect Cotati’s historical and current musical heritage,” Thompson said.

“The city had initially suggested some songs to be used, but the Caltrans team decided that a special composition was needed that would be graphically attractive on a freeway.”

That idea especially inspired Leah Haygood, a harpsichordist who composed a short piece for Cotati called “Reaching for Center, Reaching for You.” Also a landscape architect on the widening project, she describes it as a contemporary dance piece, with tenderness and mutual caring the main thematic elements.

“The song begins with a few simple notes and becomes more complex as it develops,” Haygood said, “just as a relationship between two people becomes more complex as it grows.”

The musical notes on the bridges and retaining walls represent the first few measures of her melody, a unique version of sheet music. The sound walls are adorned with large treble clefs and quarter notes.

Thompson also gives credit for the project to Marsha Sue Lustig, former planning director and assistant to the city manager, for early concept development, and to city engineer Damien O’Bid for overseeing construction on behalf of Cotati.

Widening project manager Ramsey Hissen of URS Corporation and Susan Burke, a Caltrans landscape architect, were also integral to the idea’s successful development.

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Nick Walden is our Cotati and Penngrove correspondent.
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