By Margaret Jackson | Mar 06, 2016
Custom musical instruments
When Grammy Award winner Richard Cooke started making unusual instruments in his Durango home in 1995, he viewed it as a way to give people who otherwise wouldn't play music an opportunity to experiment with user-friendly instruments.
The instruments were used in the adult music campus Cooke conducted before the business evolved into Freenotes Harmony Park, a maker of percussive instruments with a pentatonic scale that are permanently installed in parks, schools, daycares, hospitals, gardens, and museums around the world.
Using the pentatonic scale means there are no "wrong" notes, which gives the person playing the instrument the confidence to experiment. The instruments include drums, chimes, xylophones, metallophones, and marimbas.
"You can learn rhythms and patterns and really get the feel for playing an instrument," says Codd. "[Cooke] wanted to create something people could play outdoors and create an instrument that would give people a chance to freely and spontaneously play an instrument without worrying about it being non-harmonic. Not everybody can play a piano or a guitar. These are really for communities and everybody."
Freenotes Harmony sells many of its instruments as a package deal, with four "ensembles of sound," Codd says. "We created those because people ask us so often if they can only have three or four, which ones we would pick," she explains. "You get a bass sound, soprano, alto, drums or marimbas. We mix it up so you get a good ensemble of sound."
Freenotes Harmony instruments can be found in all 50 states, Australia, South America, China, Israel and Turkey. In Colorado, Freenotes Harmony instruments can be found at the Trailhead Children's Museum in Crested Butte, the Sabin World School in Denver, the Center for Musical Arts in Lafayette, and the Parker Arts, Culture and Events (PACE) Center in Parker.
"There are 56 places in Colorado that currently have our musical instruments," Codd says. "We feel like we're in the life-enhancement business. We're not in the playground business and we're not in the music business. It's an experience we want people to have."
It wasn't until 2010 that Freenotes Harmony moved into its first manufacturing facility and started hiring employees. It moved into a 10,500-square-foot facility last year. "It's not huge, but it's a decent size," Codd says.
Challenges: "Our biggest challenge is product awareness," Codd says. "We're creating a whole new industry for outdoor instruments. It's not something most people have experienced."
Opportunities: Codd sees the biggest opportunity for Freenotes Harmony in creating music parks. "We think every community should have at least one music park," she says. "Parents and kids play together. The elderly can play, the very young, and the disabled. It's a unique thing you can put in a public space everyone can use."
Freenotes Harmony continues to have opportunities to install its instruments in schools, daycares, hospitals, gardens, and museums.
Needs: Freenotes Harmony's greatest need is also its biggest challenge: product awareness. "We need for more people to know these instruments exist," Codd says. "When they find them, we get a lot of calls and emails. People make an effort to get in touch with their cities and get them into their parks."
The company's marketing strategy is to donate instruments to high-profile sites like Main Street in Sedona so people can experience them for themselves. "Our instruments need to be seen and heard and experienced," notes Codd. "If people are looking at an advertisement in a magazine, they're not sure what they're looking at."