Water musician teaches one drop at a time

Local musician builds community with 'rain making' event

Friday, March 22, is forecast to be a mild, sunny day. But when Herb Moore sits down with residents at Heritage Park in Palo Alto, he'll teach everyone how to make rain.

The plinking and plunking of water droplets, the crash of thunder and even an eventual downpour will come from his "rain orchestra." The impromptu gathering of people will simulate a rain storm by playing instruments made from found objects: old tuna cans, rubber bands thwacking against jar lids, pebbles cascading inside plastic pipe and sheet aluminum, which sounds like clapping thunder.

Friday's event, Be a Drop in the Bucket, coincides with the 20th anniversary of the United Nations' World Water Day, which advocates sustainable management of water resources.

But the rain music is also a metaphor for building community, he said. As individuals in a fast-paced society, many people feel overwhelmed by the problems at their doorstep. But "individually we are like one drop, but together we can fill a bucket," he said.

Moore said his philosophy of "music as community" is meant to bring people together -- to find ways with improvisational community and neighborhood musical events to explore ideas and new approaches to problems.

A semi-retired technical writer, Moore is a lifelong musician who has played instruments from found materials since the 1970s. He calls the art of making music with found objects Scrapophony.

He started playing a traditional instrument -- a guitar -- while a youth in McLean, Va. In the parking lots where men hung out to jam, Moore picked up the "real oral" tradition of Carter Family-style Scotch-Irish music, he said.

He started making music with scrap materials, including a xylophone, when he couldn't afford more expensive professional instruments, he said. He soon became interested in exploring all kinds of sounds.

Water became Moore's favorite element. Aquarius is his astrological sign, but water also fascinates him because it is soothing. Philosophically and physically he feels aligned with water, he said.

"It is a big part of our bodies; we need it to live. It is tremendously powerful metaphorically -- the watercourse way," he said of the Taoist philosophy of adapting like flowing water to life's problems.

Moore spent five years recording the sounds of water, from raindrops to rushing rivers. He traversed Bay Area mountains and went into the Sierras to expand his aural canvas. From his collection of soundscapes, he created a CD titled H2-Overture.

He also collaborated with Palo Alto artist Steve Curl on a slideshow called Water Color Music, which can be viewed at Moore's website,

"I think of music as being like a cosmic river that is always there. From time to time, we scoop up a bit of the river and put it into bottles of different shapes and colors, which we call songs, symphonies, operas or whatever. Or maybe we create a more free-flowing fountain (improvisation)," he notes on his website.

Moore creates a tapestry of sound, taking into consideration ambient sound as the canvas for the community sound-paintings, he said.

Since landing in Palo Alto in 1968, he has performed scrapophony at Stanford, Menlo Park's Peninsula School, Palo Alto neighborhood and community venues that include farmers markets, dance classes and Common Ground Store's garden-share events.

He performed at Stanford in the 1992 John Cage @ Stanford Music Circus and created music for the July 2003, dance performance "Along the River," by Karin Cabello-Moriarty. That event took place at Andy Goldsworthy's Stone River sculpture outside Stanford University's Cantor Arts Center.

During several days that year, he recorded the vocalizations of Sophia Sachs, a Palo Alto toddler who had a rare, genetic disorder called Neimann-Pick Type A. He wrote music based on the numerical sequence associated with the enzyme the child lacked, incorporating her voice. Sophia was said to pulse her hands to the music.

Called "Sophia's Garden," a portion of the profits from CD sales go to the Sophia's Garden Foundation. (See "Hearts break open," a May 14, 2003, story in the Palo Alto Weekly.)

Moore has also used his music at corporate workshops and team-building events. "It's a good metaphor for teamwork," he said. He sees himself as the catalyst for conversation, but he doesn't have a big agenda, he added. But sometimes conversations do come out of playing the music.

"It is a way if nothing else for people to just have a good time. I think music is wonderful. In our culture, what we've done is we've tended to make music a specialized art form where we have stars and we think only a few people can play music. We've lost a little bit of that sense of music as a participatory activity," he said.

What: Be a Drop in the Bucket neighborhood participatory rain orchestra

Where: Heritage Park, 300 Homer Ave., between Bryant and Waverley streets

When:Friday, March 22 at 12:30 p.m.

Cost: Free and open to all participants


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Like this comment
Posted by shazbar
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Make it rain!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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