Listen … It Matters!
by Dendy Jarrett
Adorned with myriad names: Mark Tree, Wind Chimes, Chime Tree, or Bar Chimes (and I am sure there are a few I am forgetting), these unique-sounding instruments can be a telling part of a piece of music.
By definition, a chime tree is a percussion instrument made primarily from brass or aluminum “bar” stock, typically 6mm in diameter for each bar, and cut and mounted in specific graduated lengths. Generally, these bars are hung from some type of mounted apparatus (typically wood or plastic), and suspended using plastic ties or hand-tied string.
They're usually played with a sweep of the fingers or a stick, and produce a falling glissando with a very pleasing sound. Depending on the specific chime tree, this instrument can also be very inharmonic and produce an ethereal effect. Musically speaking, you can hear them in sweet ballads all the way to “spooky,” dark music. But not all chime trees are created equal...
Enter a guy named Mitch, and TreeWorks.
In the late 90s, I was the interim President at a large drum company in Nashville, Tennessee. During this time, a young man named Mitch McMichen started calling me and stopping by to visit. He also attended church where I was a percussionist in the 60-piece orchestra. Eventually, he revealed that he was working on building mark trees and thinking about starting a company. At the time, Mitch was an elementary school music teacher and had a reputation of being loved by all of his students.
He invited me over to his home and when I walked in, I was stunned to see hundreds of plastic tubs filled with aluminum bar stock! There was little to no furniture in his home...it was like a small factory inside. His garage had his power tools and it was amazingly organized. He started telling me about his philosophy for quality and sound, as well as the choice of wood for the “mantle” (as he termed it - the piece of wood from which the chimes are hung). He insisted that these chimes would be of the utmost quality and all hand-tied. In another room, he had mark trees from all other companies and showed me where they fell short. In 1996, he founded TreeWorks Chimes.
MADE IN THE USA
TreeWorks Chimes are made in Nashville. Very few percussion companies still make all of their products in the USA - I'm not sure I'd need two hands to count them - but I must say, these instruments are lovingly made, and the quality is over the top.
I'm going to quote from their website description, as I'm not sure I could more accurately state the facts as to what the manufacturing process involves. The bars are the “essence of the sound.”
They “don’t paint, tint, dip or anodize, nor do they plate the bars...This adversely affects the sound.” I remember Mitch describing to me back in his company's early stages that he had tested literally hundreds of different bar stock to find the right solution. They use only custom mill runs, which is an aluminum/titanium composition that's T-6 tempered at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 hours! Now, this country boy isn’t sure what all that means, but the result is a bar that is as sleek as the grill on a Supercharged Range Rover. How do they do that? Each bar is cut, drilled, and polished by hand.
The way they polish these also takes all the rough edges away and makes for a smooth, mirror-like finish which also minimizes friction against the cord.
Then each chime is hand-selected and tuned by ear with a gradual change in pitch...one bar at a time. There are no presets or assembly line cutting going on in Nashville.
Believe it or not, the cord on these chimes is a big part of why they not only sound great, but also look so great. TreeWorks has trademarked the name CordLoc. This is a “select composition of fibers chosen for extreme strength then braided and individually hand-tied to each bar.” The cord is knotted and once the knot is tucked into the “mantle,” it's there for good. This means minimal contact of string to chime. which improves the sound. The great thing about all this hype on the cordage is that unlike other chime trees that overlook this detail so the bars can hang somewhat askew, the TreeWorks chimes all hang perfectly straight and inline like a military operation. When played, they present a perfectly even and beautifully flowing sweep, like gentle rolling waves on water.
Back in 1997 on my first visit to the embryonic company, Mitch pulled out some wood from a relative's farm. We had recently had some storms come through, and he had a few pieces of Tennessee black walnut he planned to use. I told him I thought it had a rich look, but using walnut could get expensive. He was determined to have it be of the highest quality, and he made the right decision; this review unit is simply furniture quality. It's obvious that it can hold up to the rigors of use, yet remain stunningly beautiful. They now use Tennessee black walnut and white ash that's all sourced from managed forests. A proprietary steaming process allows the dark pigment that is in the heart of the wood to permeate throughout the entire piece; they then sand the thing 16 times and use a natural oil to seal the wood.
The unit that I reviewed was a 69-Bar Double Row Bar Chime. The look of the unit is extremely beautiful and professional, but the looks mean nothing without the sound.
"Listen...It Matters" is actually TreeWork’s tag phrase...and under any normal circumstances, you'd never find me using a company’s marketing fodder, but in this case, it really does matter. This clever phrase means ‘listen’— hear the beautiful sound of these chimes because the sound matters, or it can mean ‘listen’ — the quality and sound of this instrument truly matters to us because we know it matters to you.
This sentiment isn’t hype in this instance, it's the truth.
TreeWorks offers a diversified array of chimes, from a hand-held version with only 12 bars, a single solo ‘energy’ chime, as well as a 3 chime version with a striker, a studio version single row 44-bar chime, and all the way up to this wonderful 69- bar version with several other versions in the mix. They also make a symphonic or concert version that has a built-on damper system to silence the chimes.
There's also a version for which I'd like to think I was at least somewhat responsible. Back when I was playing in this church orchestra, I would use a mark tree and as I reached the pinnacle of the chimes from the lowest to highest note, I would gently strike two bronze finger cymbals together as the conductor cut off the last note. Mitch was usually in the congregation watching those performances. TreeWorks offers a version they call the MultiTree Chimes that incorporates a small triangle on one end and a finger cymbal suspended on the other end. It would allow me to perform that same effect at the end of a song without having to reach for a pair of finger cymbals on a table. Kudos for this tree!
In addition, they also make a soft padded bag, or a soft/hard-sided bag, and a mounting clamp.
Even the packaging on these chimes is great. They came packaged in a black round tube with the tree works logo on a metallic raised decal on the side. I would even keep these things stored in this case.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
I see Mitch occasionally now at trade shows and industry events, but not much around town anymore. I suspect he is busy sanding mantles or acquiring bar stock. I do know he has done a fantastic job of growing TreeWorks into a recognized leader in this marketplace. I can find no shortcomings with this instrument and I don’t say that because I know the owner of the company. When contacted about reviewing this specific model, and asked where it should be shipped, I was able to say..."you don’t need to ship me one, cause I already own and use one in my set up!" I can’t say that about many products I'm asked to review.
So, what I can say to you is..."Listen … It Matters"!
TreeWorks Chimes TRE35db MSRP: $334.00 Street Price: $199.99
YouTube of TRE35db-69 bar Double-Row Classic TreeWorks Chimes
To discuss the use of chime trees or other percussion instruments within your set up please go here:
Dendy Jarrett is the Editorial Director and Director of Communities for Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.