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Finding Minnesota: The Mystery Musical Mural

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

It's a five-story mural on the side of a building near 10th and Marquette featuring over-sized musical notes.

Downtown workers like Kate Sutter and Allyson Mawn enjoy looking at it but they don't know why it's there.

"I've wondered what it sounds like and who put it there," said Sutter, "and what's the story behind it?"

"Everyone just knows it kind of as 'the music wall, but I don't know what it is," said Mawn.

One local musician, Cornell Blanchard, decided to find out for himself by setting up his keyboard across the street. Blanchard plays and sings with the Minneapolis band Root City and internationally-acclaimed music and tap troupe Rhythmic Circus.

Turns out, the music is from a piano piece written by French composer Maurice Ravel called "Gaspard de la Nuit." The section depicted on the building comes from the third movement, called "Scarbo."

"(It's) arguably the most difficult piece to play for a solo pianist," said Blanchard. "There's a lot going on up there."

Pogorelich plays Ravel: Gaspard de la nuit (Ondine - Le Gibet - Scarbo) by musicanth on YouTube

There was a lot going on in the '70s in the way of urban renewal when the notes went up. Schmitt Music's old downtown headquarters had a large exposed brick wall. A columnist for what was then the Minneapolis Star, Barbara Flanagan, thought the wall was ugly and wrote about it.

Tom Schmitt, the great grandson of the company's founder, remembers the column well.

"She might have said something like, 'You know you need to make that building sing,'" he said, "'or 'You need to make that wall sing.'"

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

"She wanted something that had kind of a dramatic visual appeal," Schmitt said.

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

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

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. Blanchard is grateful for that.

"I love this about Minneapolis to represent the artistic side of things," he said. "It's really cool to just have little windows like this into the art scene."

We would like to thank pianist Andy Xue, 18, who also played Ravel for our story.

Send us your Finding Minnesota ideas here.

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