Musical Work of Art, a Gift for a Deserving Student

IMG_7157rrThis post is not about trails or backpacking, but music is an essential part of my life. I learned years ago what a privilege it was to be the first to give a child a music lesson. Bill Craig gave me my first drum lesson when I was in the third grade, so sharing music feels like honoring his memory for what he gave to me.

When Kelby was in the fifth grade and a student at my school, I had the opportunity to give her a simple drum lesson and later gave some modest coaching for her all-region music preparation. She went on to become a great percussionist for which I can’t take any credit, but I took pride in watching her accomplishments.

On July 12, Kelby’s parents presented a special gift to her, and I was present to record the event. She is now the owner of a Concert Model Marimba built by master instrument maker and percussionist Doug DeMorrow. DeMorrow Instruments builds marimbas, xylophones, and vibraphones for universities, orchestras, and musicians all over the country. His Concert Marimba is a work of art!

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Doug and me in 1978 after my senior recital, and now in 2020.

Being present to watch Kelby receive her marimba was also an opportunity to see my college percussion teacher. Doug taught percussion at Henderson State University, where I earned my bachelor’s in music education. I reminded him that I was the first senior recital student he prepared and it was a musical high point for me.

Doug was an excellent teacher and enthusiastic about all things music and percussion. I remember watching his beginning stages of marimba building back in 1978, never dreaming that he would someday build world-class instruments as he has done for many years. After our visit on Sunday, Doug said, “Even though it has been an eternity since we last saw each other it was like that time evaporated.” I agreed. Within minutes we were discussing the differences in wood tone and sustain. He was the type of teacher who was so enthusiastic about his work that you learned just by being around him.

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I arrived early so Doug helped me hear the differences in bar qualities used in his instruments.

Becca enjoyed touring Doug’s shop and seeing bars in different stages of development.

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The tuning room is where some magic happens as Doug tunes the fundamental pitch and overtones for the best possible sound.

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Bar tuning room

Not all bars make the final cut. Below are just a few bars that were not up to Doug’s standards for use on an instrument.

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The rosewood that makes it onto a DeMorrow keyboard is destined for a long life of music-making, one of the most noble uses for this precious wood. Below is a closeup of the oak frame that gives stability to the weight of keyboard bars and resonators.

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People are often surprised to hear that the best keyboard instruments in the U.S. come from Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

Doug spent hours doing final settings with the instrument, tuning each resonator for the best tone. I saw a smile of satisfaction as he played the instrument before Kelby arrived.

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Kelby only learned their destination at noon before they made the drive to Arkadelphia. Once at the shop, the family enjoyed learning more about the process involved in building the instrument. Somehow, Kelby remained calm and enjoyed taking in the information before seeing her new marimba.

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The presentation

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Kelby’s first notes on the instrument

Kelby’s husband, Paxton, is a percussionist, too, so this marimba will be very happy in her new home!

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Lots of discussion about mallets and bringing out the full voice of the instrument. Kelby immediately ordered a set of Gordon Stout mallets after some experimenting. 

Doug spent some time showing Kelby and Paxton how to adjust the resonators if they wanted to experiment with them in the future.

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The resonators add to the instrument’s beauty but play an important function in being sure each note sings with a full sound. The careful adjustment of each resonator is part of the quality difference in a DeMorrow instrument.

Part of my pleasure in watching Kelby grow up has been seeing her parents’ enthusiasm and support of her musical interests. I had a front-row seat in watching their parenting since Kelby’s mom, Suzy, was my assistant principal for 16 of my 19 years at Alma Intermediate School.

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Suzy volunteering as a music stand.

Before the evening’s end, the adoption was complete as Kelby began to enjoy making music on her new DeMorrow Concert Marimba. This instrument will be treasured for years to come, and it will produce great music!

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2 thoughts on “Musical Work of Art, a Gift for a Deserving Student

  1. Such a sweet article. You and Becca have been so much more than co-workers these past 19 years. With joy & gratitude, I have watched as you supported Kelby’s musical journey. Your presence on Sunday was just icing on the cake. Thank you dear friends for joining us; documenting the day with your amazing camera; helping us carefully pack up & load this beautiful creation and NOW using your gift of writing to share our once in a lifetime experience. Thank you seems small but very sincere. 🎶

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