MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There’s a unique landmark in downtown Minneapolis that many people see, but few can fully appreciate.

You especially like it, though, if you have a musical mind. Like Prince. He posed for a picture in front of this five-story mural in the 1970s, a wall that still holds the same notes today.

But what is that music? This week in Finding Minnesota, we unlock the sounds of a classical movement on a common street corner.

Like any piece of music, it begins with an idea and ends with a feeling. But until someone steps up to play, it’s just notes on a page. Or in this case, notes on a wall.

“I’ve wondered what it sounds like and who put it there and what’s the story behind it,” said Tom Schmitt. “Everyone just knows it kind of as the music wall, but I don’t know what it is.”

Cornell Blanchard of the Minneapolis band Root City – and Rhythmic Circus, has always wondered too.

“Every time I walk by, I always think about doing that,” Blanchard said.

Now, he’s stepping up to find out. No sheet music needed. The music is from French composer Maurice Ravel, “Gaspard de la Nuit.”

“Arguably the most difficult piece to play for a solo pianist,” Blanchard said. “There’s a lot going on up there.”

There was a lot going on in the 1970s in the way of urban renewal. Schmitt Music’s old headquarters, on 10th Street, had a large exposed brick wall. Newspaper columnist Barbara Flanagan didn’t like it and wrote about it.

“She might have said something like, ‘You know you need to make that building sing, or you need to make that wall sing,'” Blanchard said.

The company did just that, asking its advertising manager to find a challenging piece, one that would look good.

“She wanted something that had kind of a dramatic visual appeal,” said Blanchard.

It turned out so dramatic that one of the world’s finest pianists, Van Cliburn, sat down for a photo session there.

“I mean if things can go viral back in 1972, it happened for this picture, it went really all over the world,” Blanchard said. “When Time Magazine did a feature on Minnesota with Wendell Anderson, that was one of the things that was featured.”

It began with an idea in the 70s. The feelings are still there, decades later.

“I love this about Minneapolis to represent the artistic side of things,” Blanchard said. “It’s really cool to just have little windows like this into the art scene.”

Schmitt Music has long since moved out of that downtown building. But the new owners, a group known as 219 Partners, said they’ve never even considered painting over it.

Comments (5)
  1. Eileen Potter says:

    WCCO – you should do a follow-up story… so sad….the wall is now covered up with paint (BEIGE paint, no less. So wrong for a landmark!)