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Hays High grad has hand in new percussion shaker

5/30/2011

By PATRICK LOWRY

By PATRICK LOWRY

plowry@dailynews.net

While necessity might be the mother of invention, sometimes all it takes is an innovative idea to bring something new to the marketplace. Of course, the timing must be right. And a little rhythm doesn't hurt either.

For two former western Kansas musicians who had all three, the only thing left was to get outside the box.

Mark Schnose and Jeff Sallee added another dimension, and the Qube was born.

* * *

The Qube is a percussion shaker. Its shape, design and, most importantly, sound are unique.

In the shape of a cube, the outer walls are made of rubber wood from Thailand. Inside, metal beads pass through a series of multi-directional channels. Move it forward and back or side to side while spinning the wrist to experience the breakthrough tonal addition to the percussion section. Swing the arm in a circular or arc motion and double-time feel is attained easily.

Chee-k-t-k. Chee-k-t-k.

Complex rhythmic patterns emerge. While traditional shakers have a swoosh sound, the Qube delivers more staccato attack and release. Precise control allows the musician to produce 32nd note patterns.

Chee-k-t-k. Chee-k-t-k.

Multiple beads slam against the inner wall simultaneously, all guided by movement of the hand.

* * *

Percussion sections play a pivotal role in almost every genre of music. The beats laid down by these musicians keep the pace of a song. Drums are by far the most common method of accomplishing this task.

But percussion instruments are not relegated to playing exclusively rhythm elements. Melody and harmony also emanate from the section via triangles, cymbals, cowbells, maracas, tambourines, blocks and handbells, The complement of accent sounds is vast.

There already is a wide array of shakers adding to the mix. Percussionists can opt for a one-shot shaker if they desire.

Alternatively, they could elect the sounds of a cyclone, egg, vari-tone, ganza, caxixis, double African, rock, soft, wah or conga shaker as well.

Schnose and Sallee believed more was possible.

"It's not like we were creating something to meet a demand," Sallee said. "But we found something that wasn't available. Wouldn't it be neat if a shaker could (fill in the blank)?"

The pair filled in the blank with: Chee-k-t-k. Chee-k-t-k.

They hit the right note as far as Latin Percussion, the world's largest producer and marketer of hand percussion instruments, was concerned. LP picked up the Qube this past fall.

In January, the Qube debuted at the National Association of Music Merchandisers. It truly was music to the ears of the judges. The Qube won a Best of Show Award at the 2011 NAMM trade show in Anaheim, Calif.

* * *

Schnose and Sallee both sport beards and mustaches. Place a beret or Fedora atop their heads, and it's not hard to imagine them right at home in a smoke-filled jazz club. Yet neither are full-time musicians. Schnose is a psychologist while Sallee manages an office machine service and repair company -- both in the Los Angeles area.

So goes the practical side of life, with all the bills, homes, spouses, kids and other responsibilities. Even drummers have to grow up some day.

It very well could have been different.

Schnose grew up in Hays, the son of Arthur and Ruth Schnose. He is a 1979 graduate of Hays High School but started banging on the drums long before then.

"My first gig was with the Eddie Frank Band playing polkas and waltzes when I was 13," he said. "It was kind of my identity in high school."

Schnose also played keyboard, xylophone and bells while in the marching band, jazz band, concert band and for the school musicals.

Sallee, the son of Virginia Sallee who grew up in Great Bend, recalls growing up with his grandfather's drums in the basement.

"I was banging on them from 5 years old on," he said.

He also played in school bands throughout elementary, junior and senior high.

The two met and became close friends while marching in the national champion Argonne Rebels Drum and Bugle Corps in Great Bend. With a little encouragement from their drum instructor, Mitch Markovich, they enrolled at Fort Hays State University. Markovich, an internationally acclaimed drummer, headed the FHSU percussion department at the time.

The two proteges quickly got involved with the jazz, marching and symphonic bands at FHSU and played various gigs on the side.

They also dabbled in creating their own percussion instruments in the garage of Schnose's parents. They made a set of wind chimes. A set of plexiglass shelled drums. And then special mallets for keyboard percussion.

"We tried to sell some of our mallets, but had limited success and just simply gave up," Sallee said.

In 1982, Schnose wrote down a list of ideas for what he wanted to do with his life. One of the ideas was for a shaker that would have control. He called it a channel shaker at the time.

"I still have that list," Schnose said, although the shaker idea sat dormant for years.

* * *

Career pursuits separated the friends geographically. This didn't prevent them from keeping in close contact, even standing up for each other as best man when wedding bells rang. Via different circumstances, both ended up in California.

Schnose and Sallee picked up their drumming relationship. They formed a trio named CanUnDrum, "A Percussive Conundrum." They can be heard playing bowls, cans, pots and pans, buckets, you name it, at various venues and festivals throughout California.

Making music also rekindled their desire to invent. Several ideas were considered before they revisited the channel shaker.

The first prototype was made of wood, plexiglass and tin. Even the optimism both possess couldn't lead them to call it a success. But it was a start.

"Our eighth prototype finally gave us the 'wow' factor we were looking for," Sallee said. "Within weeks, we had multiple manufacturers interested in our product."

Just seven months into their agreement with Latin Percussion, more than a thousand Qubes have been sold. LP has made it available in music stores throughout the world. A patent is pending. There even are two versions, one for live performances and one for studio recording.

"Innovative, versatile and eminently musical," is how LP describes the new instrument. "The new LP Qube is proof positive that good things come in small packages."

To see Schnose and Sallee demonstrate the Qube, there are silly, albeit instructional, videos on YouTube. Simply search for "qubetubetv" and give it a listen.

Chee-k-t-k. Chee-k-t-k.

* * *

Schnose and Sallee believe their award-winning Qube is just the beginning of a new chapter in their lives. LP is interested in different embodiments of the Qube as well as some other instruments they're working on.

"We also have other companies looking at other things," Sallee said. "Some are in the music industry, some outside of it. We're close on a couple of projects."

Last year, the two formed Visionary Directions LLC. They intend not only to bring more of their own innovative ideas to market, but help others do the same.

"We want others to be able to learn the process of licensing and not give up like we did the first time many years ago," Schnose said.

No matter what the future holds for other endeavors, Schnose and Sallee always will have the satisfaction of inventing the Qube.

"We made a contribution to the music industry," Sallee said. "That's a very satisfying feeling."

If sales of the Qube really take off, the chee-k-t-k might sound more like ka-ching.