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Superior students, musicians sound off with ice

Ice instruments and orbs add new dimensions to the Lake Superior Ice Festival.

Lake Superior Elementary Students check ice orbs
Students from Sue Correll's fifth grade class at Lake Superior Elementary School check if the ice orbs they are making for the Lake Superior Ice Festival are fully frozen Friday, Jan. 21, 2022 behind the school. They are, clockwise from front left, Yates Hruska, Ana Johnson, Jonathan Stelman, Hattie Olson, Parker Severin and Sydney Noble.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram
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Ice takes center stage this weekend at the Lake Superior Ice Festival in the form of everything from sculptures and rinks to a pair of frozen golf courses — mini and disc.

For local students, the ice is a promise; for a group of local musicians, it’s a challenge.

Ice to water

Fifth grade students at Lake Superior Elementary School are crafting orbs of ice for the festival’s Orb 365 exhibit. Each sphere represents a promise to protect local water.

“It’s been really fun,” Ana Johnson said of the project. “I think it was a good experience for us.”

The students took part in a coastal cleanup this fall, which prompted them to take part in Orb 365. More than an art project, the orb installation is a reminder that water is important 365 days of the year. Each orb is a symbol of its maker's promise to protect local water all year long.


The students researched the importance of keeping the world’s freshwater sources clean. Then they made a pledge as a class to use refillable water bottles. Other goals they set included picking up trash from the ground, reusing bags and turning off their sink water, and encouraging others to do the same.

Their ice orbs will be on display during the festival, arranged in the shape of Lake Superior.

Jonathan Stelman sets his ice orb down
Jonathan Stelman, a fifth grader at Lake Superior Elementary School, sets his ice orb back on a picnic table behind the school Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

Cool beats

University of Wisconsin-Superior percussion professor Brett Jones has assembled a team of fellow musicians to kick off a new festival event. Their mission: Perform an ensemble piece using instruments sculpted from ice.

Jones, chairman of the UWS music department, is used to exploring new sounds … everywhere.

“As percussionists, we have a lot of fun making music with things that aren’t typically thought of as instruments, right? So tin cans, beer kegs, glass bottles, bamboo, whatever. My wife hates going through the hardware store with me because I hit stuff and I’m like, ‘Huh, this sounds great.’” he said.

The idea of ice percussion instruments might seem, on the surface, counterintuitive. Percussion instruments are played by being hit, and ice breaks. It doesn’t vibrate well, either.

“Ice doesn’t let a lot of sound out,” said Paul Salmon, an ice sculptor from Appleton who is building the instruments. “We’re definitely going to need, you know, like microphones to pick up the sound as much as possible.”


Salmon has been turning ice into art for 34 years. His business, Krystal Kleer Ice Sculpture, has carved many pieces for past ice festivals, including a four-sided tower of ice with a phoenix carved on top that was lit on fire.

The artist is putting the finishing touches on a snare drum, a kettle drum, a maraca, a rainstick and a xylophone made out of ice for this weekend’s festival.

“It’s been a learning curve,” he said.

Drum made of ice
A drum made of ice rests on a table at Krystal Kleer Ice Sculptures in Appleton, Wis. Sculptor Paul Salmon is creating instruments made of ice for a one-of-a-kind musical performance at the Lake Superior Ice Festival in Superior set for Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022.
Contributed / Paul Salmon

To get them to resonate, some additional materials had to be used. The drums will include a plastic skin over the head of the instrument, pulled tight. Some wire will also be used. Glass beads, which are less likely to clump or stick, will tinkle inside the rainstick. The xylophone will be fine-tuned with a warm sheet of aluminum to thin out the ice keys as needed, without making them too weak in the process

Jones’ team includes former student Cory Coffman, College of St. Scholastica percussion instructor Jeremy Craycraft and Henry Eichman, the percussion instructor at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

“They’re all very excited about it. As excited as me? I don’t think that’s possible but yeah, no, they’re very excited,” Jones said.

They will improvise a new piece for the instruments after testing them out the evening before the performance.

“Not knowing exactly what the instruments are going to be like, there’s nothing really written for this per se,” Jones said.


But it’s the right cast of characters, he said, to make some pretty “cool” music.

The ice instrument ensemble will perform from 3:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29, at the festival.

This story originally contained a misspelling of Jeremy Craycraft’s name. It was updated at 12:58 p.m. (Jan. 30) with the proper spelling. It was updated again at 1:54 p.m. (Jan. 31) with the correct number of years Paul Salmon has been carving ice. The Superior Telegram regrets the errors.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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