There's a new way to make music at Marbles Kids Museum. StepNotes, a musical staircase, is now open for business.
The experience lets visitors make music and create a little light show as they simply walk up and down the 30 steps. StepNotes is made possible thanks to a grant from the MetLife Foundation.
The new experience comes a couple of months after Marbles opened TreeTunes, another musical exhibit that sits in an outdoor courtyard off the first floor water play exhibit. Both exhibits provide new opportunities for Marbles to expand its offerings and better use its downtown Raleigh building.
"We had heard from visitors that they wanted more music at Marbles," said Chris Alexander, Marbles' director of exhibits.
StepNotes and TreeTunes also put spotlights on formerly underused spaces in the museum. And, they encourage active or outdoor play. TreeTunes gets kids outside. And, instead of using the elevator, Marbles staff hope kids choose to bop up and down StepNotes instead.
The staircase sits just outside Curiosity Square on the first floor and leads up to the ArtLoft and Power2Play exhibits. In the past, as kids clamored to run up and down the main staircase or take the elevator, the staircase sat mostly empty.
It's a much different scene now. Since unofficially opening in the last couple of weeks, the stairs have logged about 50,000 notes per day on weekends and 25,000 notes on weekdays, said Jeff Highsmith, exhibit fabricator and creative technologist at Marbles, who worked on the system behind StepNotes.
Lasers, hundreds of cables and computer software make the sounds and the LED lights possible. Basically, Highsmith tells me, a laser shoots across the steps and, when it is interrupted, it sends a signal to computers to make the note sound and the light turn on. Chords and simple songs are possible. Right now, it sounds like a piano, but Marbles staff expect to switch up the sounds or the key from time to time depending on events or holidays.
This week, as kids tested the stairs for the first time, some were hesitant. One little girl wasn't sure what to think when she put her foot down and a sound came out. Others were eager to make as much noise as they could - going up and down the stairs. Marbles has hung up colorful panels, which help to soak up some of the noise so it's not so loud.
"The look of wonder is just awesome," said Katy Hipp Burgwyn, Marbles' communication specialist.
StepNotes is free with admission to Marbles, which is $5 per person.