It all began in the mid 1970’s. My dad was teaching sociology at a junior college in Phoenix, Arizona and my mom was an instructor of modern dance. She had an affinity for interesting small percussion instruments, so when he happened upon a very basic little wood drum at a shop in Santa Barbara he bought it for her to use in her dance classes. Unfortunately soon after one of my mom’s students accidentally dropped the little drum and broke it. About a year later a chance meeting with an artist/industrial arts teacher provided my dad the opportunity to make a replacement for her.
Dad met Frank Leonhardt in 1974. The two worked together closely over the next two years developing their version of the instrument. This was the first real woodworking Dad had done in his lifetime. The first drum, made entirely of redwood, inspired the creation of another, and then another… Before long, he was hooked and completely enamored with his little drums and the entire concept of hand built musical percussion; so much so that he decided to quit teaching sociology and pursue his fascination with the instrument.
Around 1976, Dad opened his own shop in Cave Creek, Arizona. There he engaged in general woodworking, built drums and participated in growing numbers of art shows throughout the western states. Insatiable curiosity drove dad and Frank, working sometimes together, frequently independent from one another but along parallel lines, to continue the instrument's development well into the early 1990's.
Dad’s design and development efforts were instinctive – driven and guided by the energy and curiosity of a music lover. Through years of discovery and experimentation he developed a method for making a drum that produced remarkable beauty and clarity of tone, with a distinctly expressive musical character, and an almost child-like playability.
By the early 1980's Dad and Mom had moved the family and shop to Sedona, Arizona. Still exhibiting at small arts and crafts festivals, Dad’s hand built drums began to appear in local galleries. Today, his drums can be found in select music stores and galleries throughout the U.S. and Canada. However, it is the personal appearances that are still his first love: demonstrating for an audience, talking about the drums and showing people how to play.
I was born in October of 1978 and my sister Sarah, three years later. In all, there are three of us, and we all still remember the weekend shows and art festivals; watching our father play the drums at his booth. Like Sarah and me, our youngest brother grew up traveling to art shows with Dad and working in the shop building drums during the summers. I began working along side him making the drums when I was 14 and have been doing so ever since.
My dad possesses an excellent musical ear and a love for beautiful sound, but has no formal training or background in music. While our drums have always been “tuned” to true musical notes and have certainly attracted the attention of a number of high profile recording artists, it was always with the non-musician in mind that he developed the musical tunings for his drums. The designs feature open harmonic scales and sequences that make it possible for anyone, regardless of musical background or training, to play delightful music!
My sister, Sarah, continues to pursue her love for music as a gifted pianist, singer and songwriter. She’s recorded and performed with our instruments, as have several recording artists alike. My brother, Zander, still builds and exhibits occasionally with us, and our Mom, now a music teacher, has been using the drums both in musical performance and the classroom for years.
Now in our fourth decade of “drum building,” we continue to explore and develop new designs from our shop in Flagstaff, Arizona. We are proud to say that our drums are widely considered to be the most musical of their kind in the world. Over forty visual designs and more than 200 different melodic tunings have been developed, each one intended to stand uniquely on its own.
For the last decade we’ve begun to explore the possibilities of other musical creations beyond the hardwood drum: expanding upon our knowledge of acoustics and combining the art of music with the craft of fine woodworking and modern design. The first of such ideas was the musical coffee table (making the single drum into a functional piece of furniture). This was followed by the concert coffee table (conceptually similar but this piece containing multiple player sections- so to encourage group play). Then there was the “congajon.” A cajón is a box-shaped percussion instrument originally from Peru, played by slapping the front face (generally thin plywood) with the hands. Our version is made from hardwoods traditional to the conga giving the instrument a much denser, larger and deeper sound. Other creations include a musical bar, writing desk and a series of full size musical dining room tables. Dad’s ultimate dream is to create an entire musical living room in which everything from the tables and chairs to storage pieces and even wall art has a musical element to it. It has been and continues to be an incredible musical adventure.
Together my dad and I hope to introduce many more original musical art creations to you, our friends and fans. We build with intention what we hope will inspire, invite and involve people to explore themselves, music and one another in a fun and effortless way. So play on music lovers, and hopefully we’ll be seeing (hearing) you soon!
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