Ravenswood Elementary’s engineering club (left to right) Farida Muhammad-Qasim, Nicholas Cummings, Jack Bloom, Francisco Sanchez, Vianney Perez and Daniella Xu with their creation on March 28, 2022. Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago

RAVENSWOOD — Students from Ravenswood Elementary’s engineering club are using their skills to build an interactive art installation that plays music with wind. 

Students spent about eight weeks weeks at the school, 4332 N. Paulina St., designing and assembling a nearly 8-foot-tall musical instrument out of wood and PVC pipes. It will be displayed in the neighborhood in April.

The project is an extension of the students’ studies into the physics of how waves transfer energy, said Ravenswood teacher Kristin Barran.

“Essentially, we talk about sound waves, light waves, and we manipulate them using Slinkies, prisms and the old telephone cup on a string. All of that,” Barran said. 

After learning how waves work and experimenting with them using smaller objects, students could expand upon their studies by building the instrument during engineering club. 

Ravenswood Elementary engineering club students assemble the art installation. Credit: Provided.

The working title for the installation is “PVC musical instrument,” but students will brainstorm a better name once the project is done being weather-proofed, Barran said.

The Greater Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce is helping fund the project and is working with the school to find a location in the neighborhood where it can be installed, said chamber spokesman Christine Rosko.

Allowing students to build something with their own hands allows them to learn about their interests and grows their critical thinking skills, Barran said. 

“It’s just another layer of pushing them beyond what’s inside the classroom,” she said. “Having students create a blueprint, break down procedures, all of that culminates in something as big as this.”

Seventh-grader Nicholas Cummings, 12, has an interest in drawing and designed the installation’s blueprints using a pencil and paper, he said.

“I’ve always liked drawing because you get to create something completely new with your imagination,” he said. “The pen is mightier than the sword. It has no limitation. You can create anything on a piece of paper, fantasy or reality.”

Students used Cummings’ design to figure out what tools and materials they would need to build the instrument.

“It’s incredible what we’ve achieved,” he said.

Seventh-grader Jack Bloom, 13, got interested in the engineering club after going to a summer engineering camp. His dad is an architect and Bloom sometimes tags along with him to watch him work, he said.

For this project, air is forced through the PVC pipes by tapping their base with ping pong paddles, Bloom said. 

“We’re going to use chain to screw in the ping pong paddles so when you’re walking down the street you can just pick up the paddles and tap each of the different tubes,” Bloom said. “Since they’re different lengths, some will make a high-pitched sound and some will make a low-pitched sound.”

This allows someone to play a song like “Mary Had A Little Lamb” by tapping the pipes in a certain sequence with the paddles.

Eighth-grader Daniella Xu, 14, grew up creating buildings with secret passageways and trap doors using legos. She joined Ravenswood’s engineering club because it allows her to pursue her interests in both art and engineering, she said. 

Ravenswood Elementary engineering club students assemble the art installation. Credit: Provided.

“For most of my life, I’ve created art, like tattoo designs and little sculptures of wood. I want to create and build things, make sculptures and figures out of wood or metal,” Xu said. “I’ve gotten interested in learning about blacksmithing, too — how people construct swords and stuff.”

The club’s instrument is in the final stages of construction, and Xu wants to add instructions for how people can play a few songs, she said.

“Maybe do like some small songs that people can like have fun with. And like little messages or quotes that could be inspirational to people passing by,” she said.

Students painted the instrument’s pipes colors that symbolize concepts and ideas, said eighth-grader Vianney Perez. For example, its green pipe represents the environment, while the pink pipe is for bringing people together, she said.

“We’re still building and are going to add stickers to it of what each of the colors represent,” Perez said. “I want to make sure people really understand the symbolism.”

Perez, 14, has always had an interest in how things like engines and bridges are designed and function and wants to be an engineer one day. 

“It’s it’s been a very interesting roller coaster to use different materials and different tools to try to make like a pipe that can make music without using a specific musical instrument,” Perez said. “We’re just trying to spread positivity. That there’s hope outside in the world and music, specifically, that can make them feel like there’s a light if they’re in a dark place.”

Ravenswood Elementary engineering club students assemble the art installation. Credit: Provided.

Help Block Club Get
500 More Subscribers!

Subscribe to Block Club now and you’ll get a free 16-by-20-inch Chicago neighborhood print of your choice, helping us reach our goal of getting 500 more subscribers before 2024. Click here to subscribe or click here to gift a subscription.

Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: