Woodstock Chimes Is Bringing Ancient Tunes Back to Life

The Ulster County company celebrates 40 years of success.


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Woodstock Chimes founder Garry Kvistad with their largest Windsinger chime, ‘Chimes of King David.’

photo courtesy of Woodstock Chimes

It started in, of all places, a landfill. And like the resonance of the windchimes for which it’s famous, Woodstock Chimes is going strong as it celebrates its 40th anniversary.

A scholar of ancient music, Garry Kvistad knew that modern instruments just couldn’t produce the tones necessary to emulate those melodies. So, in the late 1970s, he built one: He trawled a landfill and found aluminum lawn chairs, whose tubing he cut to precise lengths and fashioned into a xylophone tuned to the Scale of Olympos, a 7th-century B.C. Greek pentatonic scale.

That led to Kvistad’s next instrument. “A windchime is an instrument,” he explains. “I realized you could tune these ancient scales and let the wind play them.”

Popular windchimes back then looked pretty, but — because they weren’t musically scaled — they couldn’t carry a tune. Kvistad’s windchimes changed that. His wife, Diane, is an artist, so their first ones were sold from her booths at craft fairs.

In 1979, the Woodstock Chimes company was born. That same year, Susan Stamberg interviewed Kvistad about the chimes on NPR’s All Things Considered, and their popularity snowballed; a year later, Kvistad and his chimes appeared on NBC’s The Today Show.

 

Drum Boogie Festival

The Woodstock Chimes Fund was created by the Kvistads in 1986 to support local arts and food/shelter programs. This biannual free festival is a product of that effort: this year, it’s from 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Sept. 7 at Andy Lee Field in Woodstock, featuring diverse percussion-based groups ranging from Japanese Taiko, African, beatbox, jazz, contemporary, steel pan, and reggae.

www.drumboogiefestival.com

 

“A lot of shop owners watched The Today Show,” Kvistad says. “A Hallmark buyer ordered 1,000 chimes, which was more than we were making at the time.”

As the company grew, so did the family: daughters Tasa and Maya were born. Going with the flow as always, in 1986 Kvistad created the Chime-a-Long, a child-sized xylophone that became as popular as the windchimes and sparked the Woodstock Music Collection, which now includes percussion, string, and wind instruments. Other products include bells, gongs, and Woodstock Rainbow Makers™ Crystal Suncatchers (non-musical, but as Kvistad says, “They do to light what our chimes do to music”).

More than 300 different windchimes are in the Woodstock catalog, each tuned to a specific song, scale, or healing melody. Kvistad, of course, has chimes outside his own home, as well as a giant chime — 12 feet tall, with 4-inch-diameter tubes — outside Olivewoods, the Woodstock Chimes headquarters in Shokan.

“I never get tired of them,” Kvistad says. “If they weren’t tuned, you would get bored. Plus, the wind never repeats itself.”

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