Dobbin & Drum is a small family-owned business in south Queensland that is devoted to nurturing children’s imaginations through play. Its beautiful toys are handmade in Australia using local and natural products, comprising everything from hand-crafted teepees and majestic hobby horses to vibrant and parent-friendly drums. With November being International Drum Month, we thought it particularly fitting to catch up with CEO (self-confessed “Certifiable Eccentric Oddbod”) Mervyn Langford to discuss these timeless childhood instruments.
How are Dobbin & Drum’s Mellow Sounding Kids’ Drums different? We set out to do the best we can on every single item: We source the best materials and design each drum so it is aesthetically pleasing, simple, robust, beautifully functional, and worth consuming some of the world’s precious resources. And we consider the ultimate criteria: Is it worth giving to a child? The icing on the cake is we have fun while doing it! But that’s only logical — our items are for kids to have fun with, so it all works better if we have an enjoyable time helping make that possible!
Where do you source your ideas? Lots of our basic ideas begin – unashamedly – in traditional toys: toys that have brought fun and creativity to generations; toys that have been the substance and soul of countless childhoods. We’ve just incubated it in our own way.
“Most get a tap, just to make sure they all have that elusive magic!” – Mervyn Langford
What’s the secret to a good drum in your opinion (you would have seen and tested a few!)? We’ve had the privilege of handling and listening to a wide range of drums, percussion and music! I’d say it comes down to tone, useability, tone, using what your environment provides, correlating aesthetics and function, tone, matching size with the user – and did I mention the importance of tone? Percussion is about rhythm and tones – not noise. In 1994, Joan [Mervyn’s soulmate and Dobbin & Drum’s co-founder who sadly passed away in 2010] and I made over 4,400 drums. I can’t begin to imagine how many we have made in 30 years! And most get a tap, just to make sure they all have that elusive magic!
How important is music and percussion for children? Einstein said that his best ideas came to him when he was playing the fiddle – and he was a pretty good thinker! For us, drums and percussion are about having fun, making music, being creative, exploring changing and increasingly complex rhythms and combining that with manual dexterity and stimulating memory.
With encouragement and a whole range of music to listen to, kids can’t help themselves: they’ll tap along, sing along, and dance along. It fires the mind and brings laughter and fun into their lives. Creativity and fun are contagious! Plus percussion and dance improve balance, physical skills, and increase a person’s ability to concentrate. The benefits just keep compounding into a wonderful spiral of being creative – of being alive!
“And to think it all started in August 1983 with an old tin can, an old car tube, some plastic washing line, and a creative young mother deciding to make a first birthday present for a boy who lived in an old cow bale”
Have your drums left a particularly memorable mark on someone? There’s an unknowable amount of music and pleasure that have come out of our little Mellow Sounding Kids’ Drums: There are so many individuals, so many families, and so many stories. There are many professional musos – of all genres – who started on the kitchen floor with one of our drums.
And it gives us an immense pleasure to have been such a wonderful part of so many people’s lives. Our drums are used in music schools, kindergartens, play groups, and on kitchen floors all over Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US. They have been posted and crammed into suitcases and boxes to just about anywhere in the world. One of the cutest stories was a pre-school teacher in Bedford, Indiana (USA), who bought 26 drums from us. Her class formed a guard of honour and played her and her groom down the aisle. Then there’s the boy in Kent who got a drum, clapsticks and a guiro at aged seven. At aged 12 he got a music scholarship to Tonbridge College — a prize at a fairly prestigious school. The stories are endless as our drums have left a myriad of rifts wafting through households, concert halls and wherever people get together to play music.
Aidan (centre) and Piers (left) have been Dobbin & Drummers since birth. They are with long term friend and mentor Elliott Orr (right).
Are your own adult children musical? Certainly are! The eldest plays classical music on the piano (as a paramedic he finds great solace in tickling the ivory) and the other two have travelled the world to learn percussion and other musical instruments, including kora and mbira. Piers, my son who now does so much of the hard grunt in the workshop, has about 100 CDs of African music. He says at least 70 of these are drumming. A couple of years ago he went to Zimbabwe to learn more mbira. On his return, I asked him if he had danced at all, and what they said about it. His comment was that the older women said it wasn’t him dancing: it was the “spirits using him”. The depth of that compliment is hard for us Westerners to understand.
Is the Dobbin & Drum team planning to celebrate International Drum Month in any way? Hey! We celebrate drums every day of our lives! But, as you’ve brought it to our attention, I’d just like to say, thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about something that has generated an immense amount of pleasure in our household – and zillions of others as well! And to think it all started in August 1983 with an old tin can, an old car tube, some plastic washing line, and a creative young mother deciding to make a first birthday present for a boy who lived in an old cow bale, 40 kilometres from the small country town where we lived. I knew I should have thrown those old spare tubes away (laughs)!
For more Dobbin & Drum treasures visit our website.