Kysuce native’s creative fire fueled by sound and happenstance

Juraj Tkáč did not have a passion for music before he became a full-time chimemaker.

Juraj Tkač next to one of his creations.Juraj Tkač next to one of his creations. (Source: Facebook)

There are many uncertainties within our universe, but the power of music is not one of them, at least not to chimemaker Juraj Tkáč.

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A native of the northern Slovak region of Kysuce, Tkáč’s livelihood depends on the power of music. His niche is constructing wind chimes, specially tuned to evoke different emotions and improve the listener’s health.

He was taught the craft by German chimemaker Wolfgang Deinert, whose son lost his hearing at the age of four months due to meningitis. On his website, Deinert notes how his son’s hearing impairment taught him the difference between hearing and listening, a vital lesson that has clearly influenced Tkáč’s work.

“Every song has special frequencies. Your “bunky” or cells feel and react to these frequencies, which are beneficial for your body’s health,” Tkáč said.

Arguably an expert in his craft, Tkáč did not have a passion for nor knowledge of chimemaking or music therapy prior to meeting Deinert.

“I played no instruments. I knew nothing,” he remarked with a slight laugh.

Unconventional beginnings

While there isn’t exactly a step-to-step guide to becoming a chimemaker, Tkáč took the unorthodox route to Deinert’s workshop. In 1993-1997, he studied at the Hotel Academy in Čadca and served in the military from 1997 to 1998.

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“I was a waiter in the Czech Republic and Germany, then an operator and heating plant dispatcher. I worked in Ireland as a cook assistant for three years and also worked in construction,” said Tkáč, the epitome of a jack of all trades.

Tkáč was working on a horse farm in Germany close to Deinert’s workshop when the two first met in 2001.

“I could see that this guy was very concentrated on whatever he was doing, with a good sense of humour and disposition,” remarked Deinert, who remains a good friend and advisor to Tkáč.

Deinert needed assistance finishing a large installation, so he enlisted Tkáč’s help for two weeks. Impressed by his approach to working with sound, which requires dedication and composure, Deinert asked Tkáč to stay on at the workshop.

He taught Tkáč which tools and techniques to use when tuning and polishing chimes. Although the craftsmanship of chimes can be taught, developing a good ear for music is harder to learn, according to Deinert.

“Listening to sound in its fullness with many senses requires talent, dedication and practice,” he said.

The two worked alongside each other until 2003, when Tkáč returned to Slovakia. He continued to make chimes strictly as a hobby until he dedicated himself to the craft full-time in 2014.

On his website, Tkáč writes, “over time, a free traveler has become a family-based man whose hobby has become a job.”

An artistic mathematician

As a self-employed craftsman, Tkáč is lauded for his artistic creations, but his work is highly mathematical and precise.

Each 6-metre long tube is shortened to a specific length and then drilled with holes. While a lot of the production process involves trial and error, the chimes are tuned according to the natural frequency of 432 Hz, or the equal temperament tuning, which is considered the general tuning standard.

Tkáč churns out about 150 chimes a year, thanks in large part to his wife’s help.

“I do the dirty work. My wife does the finishing touches,” Tkáč remarked.

Tkáč adds that tone is of great importance when tuning his chimes; while some tones spark joy, others echo with melancholia. As a result, his chimes are as emotive as they are visually attractive.

According to Slovak Jozef Szadvari, who became a fan of Tkáč’s work this summer, the difference between ordinary chimes and Tkáč’s specially-tuned ones is akin to “having standard speakers versus premium ones. The sound of the premium ones will blow your mind.”

Slovakia’s Pied Piper

Tkáč’s Slovak-based business has gained attention abroad, however. Tourists from the United States, Canada and Latvia, to name a few, are keen to buy his one-of-a-kind chimes. He sells his products all over Slovakia, most often on the weekends at craft markets, where people come together to admire handiwork and traditional art.

Deinert is happy that his protégé’s work is being recognised.

“When he works, he is fully with his work. He is persistent, humble enough to ask for help and knows about the power of sound,” remarked Deinert.

For Tkáč, the Slovak who discovered his passion for making chimes almost by happenstance, the fuel to his creative fire is as clear and steady as the ring of a chime:

“It’s not just a decoration. It’s music. It’s therapy for the body,” said Tkáč.

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