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The 29th Young Evanston Artists Festival, better known as the YEA Festival, took place at Raymond Park on May 21. Each year, the Festival selects artwork done by thousands of preschool-high school-aged students from all over Evanston and displays the various drawings, paintings, and crafts for the students and their families to enjoy. Though the artwork was the Festival’s main attraction, the students and other kids at Raymond Park had a hard time ignoring another project altogether: Dave Ford’s “Swing Set Drum Kit.”
The Swing Set Drum Kit consists of three playground-sized swings that are attached to large, multicolored wheels. The wheels are adorned with drumsticks to accompany the percussion instruments set up around the station. Hence, every time a child swings on the Swing Set, the wheels move and the drumsticks strike the instruments, much to the child’s and audience’s enjoyment.
Mr. Ford, who also claims the title “The Contraptionist,” was hired to create this unique project in 2010, and it has grown vastly in popularity through years of showcasing it in various festivals and venues across the country. In terms of coming up with the design, he says, “I knew kids were at the age of hitting pots and pans and also swinging on swing sets; so I thought, how could I put that together?” Mr. Ford also mentioned that he consulted several professional musicians to better understand the physics behind the mechanics of the Swing Set, explaining that its biggest challenge was “getting the vibrations to be continuous on the drumheads.”
His experience as a professional artist helped to provide him with the necessary tools and skills needed to complete the project. “I worked a lot on mechanical sculptures, and I was also interested in sound energy and ‘common movements.’ I knew I wanted to do something musical,” he says.
As for the future of the Swing Set Drum Kit, Mr. Ford’s next appearance will be at Ravinia Park in a couple of weeks. After that, he will travel to a school for autistic children in Naperville, which he hopes will end up being its permanent home. He reasons this by explaining, “At one festival, there was an autistic kid that was really into the piece – he sat down and watched it for probably around five hours.”
“I think there’s a little more to [the Swing Set] than fun for the kids – I think it’s about stretching that and seeing how 200 seemingly-unrelated things can combine. Kids can see that,” Mr. Ford says. “People really seem to like it, and that makes me feel good.”