The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

March 9, 2014

Andra Bryan Stefanoni: Pittsburg native marching to beat of his own drums

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Once upon a time, there was a man named Milo Sharp, a longtime area music teacher, high school band director, instrument repairman and piano tuner.

He and his piano-playing wife, Katie, had four children: first Frances, then Craig, then Gayleen and finally Derek. They named them so that with their initials — I am not making this up — they would be F. Sharp, C. Sharp, G. Sharp and D. Sharp.

Musicians will recognize the list as the first portion of the Circle of Fifths, the order in which sharps appear in musical key signatures.

When Derek — now 41 — was 10, he spotted his 9-year-old neighbor, Stephanie, dragging some boards. She was going to build a treehouse. One thing led to another, and Derek more or less took the project over. When it was finished, they climbed up and stared at each other for a few years, and eventually fell in love.

While he was a high school student, Derek played four years of percussion at both Pittsburg High School and in the Pittsburg State University band, and he went on to earn a music degree from Washburn University.

He and Stephanie got married and had three children: first Alex, then Elisabeth and lastly Bethanie. They chose the names — again, I am not making this up — so the initials would produce A. Sharp, E. Sharp and B. Sharp.

Together with Derek’s siblings’ initials, they had completed the Circle of Fifths.

And they built them a huge treehouse.

In 1998, Derek bought the Topeka location of a Kansas City-based music store and reopened it as Supersonic Music. (Look closely; it’s an anagram for the word “percussion.”)

It was in the store’s basement that TreeHouse Custom Drums was born. Derek assembles each kit from components — manipulating them, cutting them, drilling them, just as he did the boards of his treehouses.

In essence, he sculpts sound.

Today, he counts among his customers numerous pro drummers, such as Danny Young, who is performing in the international Queen-inspired “We Will Rock You” tour.

And Taurus Lovely, who is performing in the national tour of “Sister Act: The Musical.”

It was for that production that Derek created his most intricate and difficult project to date: a snare drum that took more than a year and a half and 750 hand-laid pieces of glass-mirrored tiles and goldleaf-backed tiles.

He has added to his holdings a store in Lawrence and an online retail operation, and he teaches private lessons.

But he’s never so busy that he can’t make it home to Pittsburg with his family each Fourth of July to play a drum in our neighborhood Fourth of July parade.

And last week, for the 10th year, Derek catered to an audience to which he relates: high school band students. He brought eight drum kits to Pittsburg for them to use during the 40th annual Pittsburg State University Jazz Festival.

More than 60 high school bands played at four venues from sunup to sundown. Because they must do so in tight, back-to-back 30-minute increments for judges, and because some must travel for several hours by bus to get here, they can’t bring and set up their own drum kits.

So Derek does it for them: one for each practice room and one for each stage. He arrives the day before to set them up and ensure they’re in working order for the young musicians, then hauls them home the day after.

It takes three days from his schedule, but it is the perfect way to get his product in the hands of those who might consider purchasing it.

And it gives something back to the town where he built his first treehouse. And marched in his first parade.

And the beat goes on.

FOLLOW ANDRA BRYAN STEFANONI on Facebook at facebook.com/andrajournalist and on Twitter @AndraStefanoni.

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