TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Tom Kaufmann stands in the kitchen of his work-in-progress home and deftly twists a sculpture from the coil of aluminum wire looped around his arm.
He uses pliers to pry the wire into shapes. Finished sculptures surround him - “Get Well Soon” is mounted on the window, an Elvis-like character overlooks the stove, a tangle of treble clefs descends the wall.
The sculptures aren’t just visual art. Each emits a tone when struck on a hard surface or with another piece of wire.
“Everything I make is musical,” Kaufmann told the Traverse City Record-Eagle ( https://bit.ly/1CLXK1b ).
Kaufmann makes and sells the sculptures under the business Your Name Rings a Bell, for prices that start at $12. He uses aluminum welding wire made by Traverse City company AlcoTec Wire Corp.
Sculpting wire is only one of the artist’s business ventures. He plays piano regularly at the Beacon Lounge, the top floor of the Park Place Hotel, and performs at children’s events at schools, libraries and parties. He makes other musical art pieces that have found homes in parks and museums as far away as California, and been honored at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids.
Performance came first for the musician. One of his initial gigs was playing piano at a bar in Okinawa, Japan, when he was 19. Kaufmann moved to Charlevoix in 1980 to work at a radio station and has lived and performed in the region ever since.
Kaufmann opened a music studio called Tinkertunes in Logan’s Landing in 1995, where he taught music lessons to children and rented space to other music teachers. He closed the studio after others opened in the area.
“When I started there was nothing else going on in town and now there are a lot more options,” he said. “We filled a need when there was one.”
The studio also helped Kaufmann develop a side business, called Upright Piano Co. Kaufmann refurbishes old upright pianos into office furniture under this side business.
It started when he needed furniture to outfit Tinkertunes, and decided to turn old pianos into desks.
“People are literally throwing this stuff away,” Kaufmann said while gesturing to a picture of an upright piano.
Kaufmann said pianos used to be the entertainment center of a home or business, but fell out of favor over time. Many of his customers see the sentimental value in loved ones’ old instruments and want to put the pianos to practical use.
Most of his work through Upright Piano Co. is on commission basis, since the finished pieces are still piano-sized and heavy. He plans to film and sell instructional videos that will show others how to turn pianos into desks.
Much of Kaufmann’s work is done in the garage behind his house, away from audiences and pianos.
His workshop is piled with old oxygen tanks cut to emit certain tones. Old bolts and wrenches are organized based on the sound they emit when struck with a mallet. Pieces of granite stacked in a cardboard box make a major scale when lined up by size.
Kaufmann finds the raw material at trips to the junk yard, where he picks through piles of discarded pieces looking for those that emit the perfect pitch.
“I spend a lot of time tapping on stuff that’s not designed to be tapped on,” he said. “I go to the junkyard with a mallet and tap on things.”
It’s work done in the name of music. Kaufmann wants to help more children discover music and show that musical instruments don’t have to be expensive. They can be made of anything - stones, car parts, pipes.
He said kids that study music are smarter.
“Anything that triggers a kid’s mind musically is going to help,” he said. “It’s part of their environment. Maybe they’ll develop an interest in it and it will become part of their lives.”
Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle, https://www.record-eagle.com
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