We designed the Chimalong® to help children develop creativity at an early age. When our two daughters were young, I found little on the market that would inspire them to learn music, so I decided to create a metallophone from musically tuned Woodstock Chime tubes, and the Chimalong was born. Little did we know that celebrities like Jim Henson would endorse the instrument for its educational value. It was amazing to meet with Jim and hear him say that this instrument was a great musical vehicle for children to not only learn but to experience and have fun with music. The Chimalong has earned many awards and endorsements since then, and has been a customer favorite for 30 years and counting!
Here is a short video that tells the story of how, back in the early ‘80s, I developed something for our children that helped them grow from a very young age to a level of creativity that has had a profound effect on their lives. We have heard from so many people who grew up with this instrument, who confirmed what a great influence it was on their early development. They tell us that they are now sharing that with their children. I feel quite flattered but old!
The Blackearth Percussion Group was conceived in 1971 and formed in 1972. Original members included my brother, Rick Kvistad, Allen Otte, Michael Udow, Chris Braun and, of course, me. James Baird, David Johnson and Stacey Bowers joined later. The group has been invited to perform at PASIC (Percussive Arts Society International Convention) this fall, the largest private percussion event in the world, and I’m really looking forward to getting the old band back together!
We held residencies at the University of Illinois, Northern Illinois University and the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati. Blackearth Percussion Group is credited with rediscovering John Cage’s Third Construction shortly after the manuscript was made public and performing it throughout the U.S. and Europe beginning in January of 1977. The group performed 38 world premieres, gave 157 concerts in the U.S., Canada and Europe, made three recordings, commissioned many compositions, played several different concertos with orchestras, experimented with micro-tonal tuning systems, was one of the first percussion groups to write and perform minimalist music, and developed several multi-media productions.
The group disbanded in 1979, the year I founded Woodstock Chimes. It is an honor to be asked to participate in PASIC16 and we look forward to performing once again as the Blackearth Percussion Group.
People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ’bout my generation) Just because we get around (Talkin’ ’bout my generation) Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin’ ’bout my generation) I hope I die before I get old (Talkin’ ’bout my generation) This is my generation This is my generation, baby
Those are some of the lyrics from “My Generation,” recorded by The Who in 1965. I still am not quite sure what The Who was saying but it was a significant song of my generation. I was 15 when this song was released and it took another 15 years before I helped produce my next generation, daughter Tasa, with my wife, Diane, doing most of the work. Tasa has recently produced the next generation, Lucca, with help from her husband Rob. Luckily, I did not “die before I got old,” as the lyrics go, since it’s too late for that. I am very happy to be around to enjoy our first grandchild.
Tasa and Lucca visited Diane and me last week and we got together for a few photos with Lucca enjoying one of the kid’s instruments we produce, the Woodstock Mini Jambourine™.
Lucca just turned 10 months old and the Jambourine is one of the few musical instruments made for kids of any age (as long as they’re at least 8 months!). It not only sounds and looks cool, it apparently tastes good too.
There is a drummer in this child (him) and a child in this drummer (me).
Lucca loves music, and sings, dances and claps whenever he hears his mom and dad perform their popular Tasa and Rob shows at their local venues.
I am hoping that his generation will keep music alive and continue the effort to make world peace a reality.
A fantastic exhibit of the amazing tonal sculptures of American artist Harry Bertoia is showing at the museum of arts and design (MAD) in New York City through September 25th. I was thrilled to be able to spend an afternoon walking through this exhibit and learning more about one of my favorite artists. I have known about his work since college and wanted to see and hear it ﬁrst hand. Having already established a reputation as a visionary sculptor and designer, Bertoia embarked on an exploration of
tonal, or “sounding” sculptures in the 1960s. This is the work that attracted my attention as a music student, and this is the focus of the current exhibit. Unfortunately, I was able to only see them and not hear them, since the hours in which they can actually be heard are very limited. I will have to be content with recordings of these beautiful sculptures. Bertoia recorded his sound sculptures, resulting in a collection of wonderful LPs that sound like early electronic music. He called these sounds Sonambient. The recordings that were being played in a listening area at the exhibit reminded me very much of electronic music of composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Bertoia found beryllium metals to be ideal for his work because of their weatherability and their tendency to retain their shape even under repeated stress and strain. This comes at a cost, however, since the dust created by working with this material is a known carcinogen. While I’m not sure of the direct connection, Bertoia died in 1978 of lung cancer.
Much of his output consisted of thin metal rods attached to resonating bases with or without weights on top. When these rods strike each other, the result is greater than the sum of its parts. A wide spectrum of sound is created with just a dozen or so rods. For me, the visual impact of his work reﬂects both architectural shapes as well as organic forms. In addition to these tall, thin sculptures, Bertoia made a number of gong-type instruments, ranging in size from medium to his gigantic sun gong, which stands on his property in Pennsylvania and under which Bertoia is buried.
How many companies can boast they held full opera orchestra rehearsals in their factory? Well, we can! The Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice [phoeniciavoicefest.org] is in its 7th season and going strong. Phoenicia is a rustic town with some cultural flair nestled in the Catskill Mountains not far from our headquarters. The festival was founded by members of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and has attracted world-class performers since the beginning. I have proudly played a part in past seasons and was glad to offer my studio at Woodstock Chimes for several rehearsals this year.
On Saturday, August 6th, the festival presented a fully costumed, concert production of Verdi’s opera Otello with singers from the Metropolitan Opera. The orchestra was led by maestro David Wroe and consisted of professional players, many from the New York City metropolitan area. I played timpani and my colleagues from NEXUS, Bill Cahn and Russell Hartenberger, were in the percussion section. If you’re in the region next August, be sure to check out the festival. Shakespeare and all things English were the themes this year, and besides Otello, it included a Friday evening performance of Kiss Me Kate, which is based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. The festival is not to be missed!
If you could live forever, would you want to? I will be 67 by the end of this year. I’m generally the oldest person in the room and in good health and mentally sound, or so I believe. I work with tremendous people both in the business of making chimes and making music who inspire me and keep me feeling young. I remember my father telling me at some point he started having to erase names from his address book as his friends passed on. Today we delete names from our contact files. On the other hand, our oldest daughter just had a baby boy, Lucca, which makes us grandparents for the first time. His birth reminds us that life renews itself, bringing hope and joy into the world.
A few of our friends have lost physical mobility and a few others have literally lost their minds to dementia. Both situations are very sad and make you wonder which is worse. Would you rather be physically OK or mentally sound, if you had to make a choice? I realize this is an impossible question to answer but it is something to contemplate – like a Zen koan. Someday medical advances will allow for an affordable fix for any ailment whether it be physical or mental. I believe this is known as nirvana. Or is it?
An elderly gentleman sat next to a woman at the bar and asked, “Do I come in here often?”
NEXUS has always been a groundbreaking ensemble and Saturday night, June 4th was no exception. We had the honor of being the first percussion group to play at the 35-year-old Rockport Chamber Music Festival in the spectacular Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts.
One feels like a 3-D component of a Norman Rockwell painting in Rockport, which is right on the ocean a short drive from Boston, not to be confused with Rockport, Maine.
This intimate, well-run hall has incredibly wonderful acoustics and is one of the few halls we’ve ever played in with a magnificent view behind the stage. The back of the stage, which is visible to the audience, is a gigantic glass wall overlooking the bay.
The group stayed at a quaint bed-and-breakfast within walking distance of the hall. The proprietors have been housing performers for years and have a collection of photos of some pretty impressive artists who have stayed there. I hope they include us!
As you can read by the reviews in the links below, our program was divided into two parts. The first half included three works by Steve Reich, two of which featured rhythmic percussion instruments.
The second half featured arrangements of works by Moondog and George Hamilton Green, played primarily on melodic percussion instruments. It was a real pleasure to be invited to be part of this prestigious concert series in such a beautiful venue.
“Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway.” – Willie Nelson