Pilot Mound artist Karl Unnasch once again has a tree installed in the downtown plaza of Silver Spring, Md. This year's tree, "Silver Symphony," is a cone made from galvanized steel and adorned with real musical instruments that can be "played" by pushing buttons on a box at the tree's base.
Pilot Mound artist Karl Unnasch once again has a tree installed in the downtown plaza of Silver Spring, Md. This year's tree, "Silver Symphony," is a cone made from galvanized steel and adorned with real musical instruments that can be "played" by pushing buttons on a box at the tree's base.
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Play the tree again, Sam.

“Awash with sound, motion and light, this year’s holiday tree in Silver Spring jingles at passers-by on the whims of the wind, luring them in to the magical music panel to chime in and ‘play the tree’ with a holiday tune of their very own,” related a press release posted on Pilot Mount artist Karl Unnasch’s website.

“Studded with trumpets and trombones, cellos and guitars, triangles and cymbals and wind chimes and bells, Silver Symphony is a tribute to the importance of music in our everyday lives.”

Unnasch shared the news that he was once again chosen to create a tree entitled “Silver Symphony” for the downtown plaza in Silver Spring, Md., outside Washington, D.C., for the third annual “Downtown Silver Spring” celebration.

At the base of the tree, children and adults alike are drawn to the life-sized playbox — a musical control panel taking the form of an oversized gift box.

“Enchanted squeals ring through the square as cymbals are struck, chimes are tinkled, bells are jingled and strings are strummed when holding down the big toy-like buttons,” the release added. “To add to the melodies in the plaza, school choirs and bands have been invited to perform on the adjacent Downtown Silver Spring Stage throughout the holiday season.”

Unnasch’s first installation in Silver Spring, “Playtime Jubilee,” constructed from plastic sleds and other plastic toys, was the result of a call to stained glass artists for submissions to garner a centerpiece for the plaza’s December celebration last year. The toys that became part of the perfectly plastic spectacle were donated to Silver Spring-area charities.

“Silver Symphony’s” purpose is no different.

“The tree is also a call to a cause…in keeping with last year’s tradition, a specific charity is the focus,” Unnasch shared. “This year, Hungry for Music will be receiving and redistributing new and gently used instruments donated by the public into the nearby donation box through the musical instrument donation drive organized by Downtown Silver Spring. Hungry for Music also will be refurbishing any usable instruments from the tree upon dismantling.”

Unnasch was “glad to have a second try at it in a fun fashion, as a sequel” to “Playtime Jubilee,” and to take a totally different approach to engaging the public’s imagination.

He pointed out that at the outset, “there was a lot of pressure in making this kind of public art” because “you’re trying to appeal to a broad range of people.”

“The D.C. area is a multicultural area and you have to be respectful of that, and after that it’s a matter of having fun and taking on a new challenge every year,” he added.

The approximately 35-foot-tall, 16-foot diameter tree is a collaborative effort between Unnasch; a Utica, N.Y.-based company, MetalLogix; another, Enjoinery; and Peterson Companies. It took two to three months to design before its installation.

“The entire structure is covered in galvanized steel that’s machine-punched out. It’s a thinner-gauge sheet metal that shines brightly in the day and has lighting inside the punched-out holes that are shaped like snowflakes, in a pattern. With the holes punched out, we’ve been told that it becomes the world’s largest Yankee candle, but we’ll leave that record to someone else,” Unnasch said. “The Peterson Company gathered most of the instruments through local requests, and Jon Taylor, and Enjoinery, who I’ve worked with before, were a good fit for the technical challenges of building it. Enjoinery came in on the technical aspects to make sure it ran well with the playbox. There are solar lights and cymbals and string instruments, and it depends on the linkage you choose…they decide how the pieces move and are activated. With the moving components, there are gears and motors that make things spin, and strobe lights that activate to light it up, especially at the top.”

Unnasch concluded, “It was a fun challenge. I’m pretty happy with it – it’s more subtle than last year’s tree, and in contrast, it’s something that sticks with you as you walk around the plaza.”