At the Music of the Spheres showroom, in East Austin, owner Sara Eskew plays the part of the breeze. She taps the diamond-shaped wind catcher dangling from one of the dozens of wind chimes on display, causing the metal tubes to lightly ring. The tubes, which are made of a tempered aluminum alloy with a black coating, are industrial and austere—nothing like the glittering, ornate chimes on Grandma’s porch. Their beauty comes from the aeolian melodies they create.
This particular chime is the Pentatonic Mezzo: “pentatonic” for its musical scale and “mezzo” because of its register. At 38 inches long and 5 pounds, it’s the second smallest of the size options, which range from the Soprano, at 30 inches and 2 pounds, to the Basso Profundo, a whopping 14.5 feet and 200 pounds. Among the other tunings available are the Westminster, a chime that emulates the sound of cathedral bells, and the Balinese, an homage to the gamelan, an Indonesian orchestra made up of drums, gongs, and other percussion instruments.
But it is the Aquarian that holds special meaning for Eskew. The tuning, which evokes the motion of the waves on an Alpine lake, is an original composition by Larry Roark, her late husband and the founder of the company.
Eskew met Roark in the summer of 1989, at an arts festival at Austin’s Laguna Gloria estate and museum. A classically trained musician and then-host of an overnight show on KUT, the local public radio station, Roark was selling his photographic prints at the fair. Eskew, an attorney, had just returned to her hometown. They hit it off and married the next year.
While they were dating, Roark saw a wind chime on her porch and thought, “I can make one better.” That night he got to work on the first prototypes of the Aquarian model, based on his knowledge of music theory.
Roark launched Music of the Spheres in 1989 and began selling his chimes at Renaissance fairs and on the Drag, at the University of Texas. “It was initially just another side gig” for Roark, says Eskew, who helped him run the company. “He made chimes but also kept up with his photography and deejay job.” But as the business grew and they started shipping their handcrafted pieces around the country and internationally, it took up more of their time. Roark and Eskew, who at one point was an assistant city attorney, eventually left their day jobs to run the company.
In 2001 Roark died in a car accident at the age of 45. Eskew was devastated but knew she had to keep the company going. She now oversees a staff of 35 artisans and other employees. “Continuing to make his chimes is a way of keeping his music alive,” she says.
How to Pick the Perfect Chimes for You
Want to add some meditative sounds to your environs but aren’t sure how to choose a wind chime? Music of the Spheres owner Sara Eskew shares her tips.
What style of tuning should I get?
“It’s not an intellectual exercise,” she says. “Pick the one that makes your shoulders drop a bit and makes the lines in your forehead relax.”
How big should I go?
The larger the chime, the lower the pitch. If you’re looking for a sound that twinkles, choose something smaller. If you have a lot of space and want something with a deeper character, opt for a larger model.
Where are the best places to hang chimes?
“Anywhere works if you have appropriate space in relation to the size of the chime,” Eskew says. If you really want a larger chime, make sure you have enough room for it, so that it’s not so overwhelming.
How should I care for it?
Chimes are low-maintenance. If a big gale blows through, you might want to remove the detachable wind catcher, “though more for your ears than for
your chime,” she notes.
This article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Making Music in the Air.” Subscribe today.