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Ithaca Sound Maze, now through November 1st at Steep Hollow Farm
Walter White and Christianne White speak with WSKG's Gregory Keeler
Ithaca Sound Maze, now through November 1st at Steep Hollow Farm
Getting ready to hit the gongs at the Ithaca Sound Maze
Online interview audio now available. Ithaca Sound Maze

When: Saturday, September 5th - Sunday, November 1st from sun up to sun down

Where: The Ithaca Sound Maze is located on the grounds of Steep Hollow Farm, three miles south of downtown Ithaca on Calkins Road just off Route 13/34/96 (Elmira Road) in the Town of Ithaca, between Buttermilk Falls and Robert Treman State Park. Drive/walk/bike on Calkins Road until you see the rainbow umbrella marking the entrance to the sound maze.

Cost: $5 per person (children under 5 are free)

Website: ithacasoundmaze.com

This fall more people than ever will be able to enjoy Tompkins County's only corn maze and sound garden.

"Last year was our first year, and we were only in operation during October," explains Christianne White, who created the musical maze with with her husband, trumpeter and composer Walter White. "But the response was so strong that we are going to open up this year in September."

Christianne says the Ithaca Sound Maze was inspired by Marge Arcangeli's maze at Arcangeli Farm in Burdette, which also features a small zoo. "Her maze has a really great view into the valley," says Christianne. "Glorious to be outside at this time of year."

This year the Whites are opening their Ithaca Sound Maze up for visitors all week long, from sun up to sun down.

"We'll still be there in person on the weekends, serving cider and oatmeal cookies," says White. "During the rest of the week people can visit the maze and explore the instruments on a 'self serve' basis."

The Ithaca Sound Maze is a 'kinder and gentler' style corn maze which encourages spontaneous musical interactions using a number of interactive instruments and sound installations hidden throughout.

"It's more intimate than some corn mazes," says White. "And the spirit is a little different. Instead of feeling lost, you feel like you are finding things. And instead of trying to get away from people in the maze, you are happy when someone joins you at an instrument because they start riffing on it in some fun, unexpected way."

This year there is a musical theme cut into the pattern of the maze itself. "We were inspired by the clef and staff pattern you see on a piece of sheet music" says White, "although our lines are not perfectly straight - like a musical idea jotted down by someone in the middle of the night."

The original instruments were built by musician Walter White and metal artist David Mazzarella, and were created out of found and recycled materials collected at Steep Hollow Farm and other farms and sites around the Tompkins County region. This year Walter will be creating two new instruments, funded in part by a grant from the Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County.

"The Sound Maze inspires collaboration, and people are intrigued by that." says White. "It can be a great team-building experience, and it is refreshing to get outside under the open sky. You will not only find out what a harrow is but also how it sounds when you play it."

Hundreds of people, some from as far away as California, discovered the Ithaca Sound Maze last fall.

"It was really well received, " says White. "we enjoyed finding out how the word had spread. The Ithaca Moms' group visited as did a lot of people from the Cornell Business School because someone was kind enough to post information on a list-serve there. Word of mouth is important in Ithaca, where so many people are coming and going and time is tight for everyone. This is something that a family can do after school. It won't take up your whole day, although if you wanted to, you could spend a lot of time inside the maze. Last year people even came with their own recording devices and made a record of what they "played" in the maze."

The Ithaca Sound Maze is fun for musicians and non-musicians alike to explore.

"People who may not consider themselves to be 'musical' find it easy to make interesting sounds," explains White, "and people who DO know a lot about music are more engaged than they expect to be, because Walter has 'tuned' the instruments in many different keys and modes."

People's responses to the Sound maze have ranged from boistrous to meditative.

"My son's cello teacher visited the maze and said that playing the instruments made her sensitive to all of the other sounds going on around her -- the sound of the corn leaves rustling in the breeze, the sounds of birds calling to each other, even the noise of the traffic in the distance on Route 13."

"It's a good location," says White, whose family has owned Steep Hollow Farm since the 1930s. "We're fairly close to downtown Ithaca (and accessible via TCAT's bus route 67), but it gives you a good sense of being in the country. And we are right near two great State Parks - Buttermilk and Treman - and two local farm stands - Earlybird and Eddydale - so that people looking for pumpkins and corn can buy them nearby."

White is also planning to sell fresh eggs on the weekends as part of her new collaboration with Tom Shelley, the Sustainable Chicken Project, which links urban and rural residents via their compost.

"That's a whole other story," says White.

Snacks will be available on weekends (Saturdays and Sundays: 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.) including Steep Hollow Farms organic oatmeal cookies and fresh local apple cider when it becomes available. Fresh local eggs and flowers will also be for sale.