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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.

9 Comments for “Caltrans captures Cotati’s musical spirit”

  1. I was wondering about the music, as my husband is a musician. I would almost think grapvines would be a good design, as seen on highway 29 in Napa but I’ll take musical notes :-)

  2. So…. post an audio file for the composition, so we can actually HEAR IT!

    • Yo, “Rick!”

      Nice, positive remark, nimrod.

      I can’t believe this is happening, and think it is awesome, to say the least. The creativity in conjunction with the openness of Caltrans to even THINK of being open to such a thing is just great, and a suitable homage to the wonderful musicians we have and have been able to appreciate locally in Sonoma County. Thanks to all of you guys!!! (Except “Rick”, the nimrod!)

    • Marie Thomas McNaughton

      The piece has not been recorded. I’m not a musician, but perhaps someone can transcribe it from the retaining wall or bridge versions, record it and share with everyone as a service to the community. Double dog dare ya!

  3. You should’ve posted the song so we all can heard it!

  4. Just out of curiosity how much more did it cost or add to the cost of the wall? It is nice and I appreciate the arts and music, but when the state is going broke where do we have the money to add all this. Where is the rationale or payback. Just wondering?

    • What is it with you idiots? People that complain about this kind of thing are the same morons that refuse to allocate tax spending on arts and sports in schools, and probably spend NO time with your kids that doesn’t involve either punishment or impressing them with your ability to chug a beer, but you’ll complain until your lips turn blue because of the violence in your neighborhoods because kids have nothing to do in their spare time but join gangs.

  5. This is faantastic. It isn’t really distracting to the driver and makes good conversation with children even.

  6. Seriously Pete. Do you complain about the wrapping paper on your birthday presents, too? In a day and age where cost and expense mean soviet style blocks of cement everywhere we look, McMansion homes with zero style or unique features, you want to complain about a bit of aesthetic? A tiny piece of art among the massive floor and walls of cement bugs ya, huh? Keep smiling…

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Nick Walden is our Cotati and Penngrove correspondent.
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