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Making a glorious noise at the museum

Making a glorious noise at the museum

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Maria Valencia from Russia, now living in Napa, first explored Paul Dresher’s “Sound Maze” exhibit at the Napa Valley Museum with her son Yasha, age 5. She returned with Yasha and his friend Sasha, age 4, plus Sasha’s mom, Viktoriya Kobzar.

“We asked a museum staff person: ‘Is there anything we can’t touch,’” Valencia said. “And she gave the best answer: ‘You can touch everything.’”

Dresher’s oversized, inventive musical instruments, created in collaboration with Daniel Schmidt, for “Sound Maza,” an interactive, hands-on exhibit now on exhibit through Aug. 11 at the museum. Featuring inventive, giant musical instruments, including a pendulum 17 feet high, the show is attracting crowds of locals and visitors eager to make some glorious noise. Made of hard and soft woods, plywood, aluminum, and lots of music wire, the “workings” of these instruments are visible, and the pieces are engineered to stand up to whatever noise-making uses can be conjured up by visitors, from toddlers to seniors.

The kid-pleasing exhibit has also drawn professional and would-be musicians, attendees at local jazz and rock festivals, and fans of Dresher’s acclaimed work as a composer and musician, according to the museum’s executive director, Laura Rafaty.

“We knew this would be a hit with kids and families, but adults — and lots of couples — have been enjoying it too,” Rafaty said. “Apparently there are a lot of would-be drummers out there. People are staying in the museum much longer than usual — sometimes for an hour or more — and they always leave with smiles on their faces.”

“Some older adults, and those visiting for the recent Ellsworth exhibit, come into the Sound Maze somewhat reluctantly, but they end up staying and sending their friends,” Rafaty said. “I particularly appreciate that kids with autism or special needs, and visitors who don’t speak a word of English, can have a great experience side by side with other museum visitors.”

“We’ve been to the Bay Area Discovery Museum, and used to go regularly to Scientopia in Napa, but we liked the Sound Maze better,” Valencia said. “We will be back again, hopefully when Paul Dresher is here.”

Dresher will lead tours on June 24, July 1 and July 29 and will also be at the museum’s Member Appreciation Party on July 28.

“This is one of the most exciting places for any child to experience,” Valencia said. “You can do whatever you want. This is the perfect place to experiment, and the perfect way to introduce children to music. The way it is set up is beautiful. You feel free to connect to what is near to their heart. It’s an amazing place — an authentic stimulating environment that inspires the imagination.”

Who is Paul Dresher?

In reviews from the New York Times, SF Classical Voice, KQED, Dresher emerges as a kind of musical genius. The San Francisco Chronicle described him as “a sort of musical Thomas Edison, retreating into his lab . . . to conjure up fantastical new instruments.”

He has received commissions from the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Ballet, Berkeley Symphony, ODC Dance and other performing arts organizations, and the Paul Dresher Ensemble performs to capacity crowds at major music venues around the world. He was among the first musicians to compose a symphony for a major orchestra using invented instruments. His musical inventions have been the focus of acclaimed theatrical performance pieces like “Schick Machine.”

Dresher’s “Sound Maze” first appeared as a shorter-term museum exhibit at the USC Fisher Museum of Art, followed by a sold-out run, with tickets doled out in one-hour increments, at UC Davis.The Napa Valley Museum exhibit is the first time that the Sound Maze has been installed for a period of months.

“It’s both an honor and a thrill to have my creations reside, for the very first time, in a museum for an extended period of time,” Dresher said. “As someone who has long been identified primarily as a composer and performer of contemporary music, this opportunity to present my work at the Napa Valley Museum realizes a long-held dream. I greatly look forward to the upcoming days when I’ll be in residence at the Museum demonstrating, explaining and sharing the excitement of interacting with these creations and the people of Napa Valley.”

“I started inventing musical instruments when I was in high school,” Dresher said. “At the time, I thought I was only exploring new musical possibilities. But unknown to me, alongside the musical explorations, I was also experimenting both with how the instrument looked and how one interacted with it. It wasn’t until I started producing new opera and music theater that I began to realize the visual and interactive potential of my inventions. This exhibition is a collection of my favorite creations, done in collaboration with my long-time inventing partner Daniel Schmidt, and most of which were originally created for experimental music theater projects.”

‘iNSiGHT’ from MJ Schaer

Also currently on exhibit at the Napa Valley Musem through July 16 in the Spotlight Gallery is “iNSiGHT: the eye behind the lens. The Photography of MJ Schaer.”

“As an outdoor photographer, my aspirations for “iNSiGHT” come from the multitude of subjects and objects I encounter in my connection and passion for the great outdoors,” Schaer said. “With acute observation and perception, taking note of small details, one is enabled to visualize, capture and create a visual impact from these outdoor subjects, thus creating the adventure and goal of this photographic series.”

Schaer will be in the Spotlight Gallery on June 24 from 1-4 p.m., for a reception and art sale. To attend, RSVP at Select works will be for sale throughout the exhibit to benefit the Museum’s education programs.

The Napa Valley Museum is at 55 Presidents Circle in Yountville, and is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The second Saturday of each month is a “Family Fun Day” when visitors pay what they wish. For more information, call 707-944-0500, email, or visit the website at

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