Maker Stories: Richard Cooke, the Vagabond Music Maker

Picture this. You’re strolling down the Beech Tree Path, just minding your own business, soaking up the afternoon sun. Up ahead, something catches your eye—glints of silver poking through all the greenery. Curious as a cat, you slink closer, waiting to pounce on your discovery: three giant instruments! What do you do?

Start playing! That’s exactly what their creator, Grammy-award-winner Richard Cooke would encourage you to do. He designed our new, permanent collection of outdoor musical instruments bringing art, music and nature together in perfect harmony. Just for you.

Richard Cooke, founder of Freenotes Harmony ParkRichard always knew he’d be a musician. As a kid growing up in St Louis, he took voice, piano and trumpet lessons. But, conformity wasn’t part of his DNA and joining a band just wasn’t his true calling. He found that in Memphis. While the city gave birth to Rock ‘n Roll, it was the infectious improvisation of the blues and jazz that re-ignited his musical fire and set him on a vagabond life of musical expression.

Back then, he had two prized possessions: a 10-speed bicycle and a contrabass clarinet he picked up at a pawnshop. He taught himself how to play it by year—and began a life of “spontaneous music-making.” Along the way, he wound up collaborating with the Paul Winter Consort on Crestone, which took away the Grammy award for Best New Age Album of 2008. The acknowledgement in the liner notes says a lot: Richard Cooke, trickster emeritus. For your full-tilt participation and irresistible musical spirit.

That spirit eventually took him to Utah where he began building “perfect-pitch” instruments that music-makers of all ages and abilities could step up to and play. Today, you’ll find Richard’s creations everywhere from the Riverwalk in New Orleans to the Florida Botanical Gardens. As far away as Canada and China, too. But, why wander further than the Beech Tree Trail at Highfield Hall & Gardens? It gives new meaning to the phrase “go outside and play.”

The Music Garden located on the Beech Tree Path is accessible year-round from dawn to dusk. Let us know about your experience and what is your favorite instrument in the Musical Garden.