Dad hand-builds instrument for Petal High School daughter

David Ray is a computer instructor by trade, and a pianist at 19th Avenue Baptist Church on the weekends.

Nothing in his job description says “carpentry” or “construction.”

But when David’s daughter, Breanna Ray, recently earned a vibraphone spot in the Petal High School band, he learned those skills on the fly to hand-build a marimba – a percussion instrument with wooden bars, similar to a vibraphone – for her to practice on.

“Marimbas, brand new, run in the thousands of dollars, so I knew I couldn’t afford one, but she needed something to practice on,” David said. “So I got to looking at used ones, but even the used ones were $1,500 or $2,000.”

Undaunted, David searched the Internet for instructions on how to build his own marimba. His first thought was to coordinate with his brother-in-law – a master carpenter living in Florida – to help build the instrument, but the two could never get their schedules in synch.

“At that point, I was kind of disappointed,” David said. “Then after thinking about it and looking at the instructions, I said ‘What the heck – I’ll give it a whirl myself.”’

He then spent the next three months over the summer – unbeknownst to Breanna, who is a freshman at the high school – hand-building the marimba from wood and PVC pipe to be ready in time for the new school year.

“It was definitely over my skill level, so I just took my time and worked all summer,” David said. “I’ve done very little with wood before – I’d made a little stage for our playroom for our kids to play on, and that’s about it. I’d done nothing to this extent at all.

“But it turned out great – it sounds good, and it’s exactly what she needed. It’s actually built like a real marimba. Probably the only difference is that a real marimba has metal pipes that kind of increase the sound underneath the wood notes, and mine uses PVC pipe.”

Because the marimba was meant to be a surprise gift, David had to secretly work on the instrument while Breanna wasn’t around.

“I had to work on it during times while she wasn’t here at the house – late at night, early in the morning,” David said. “I have a little workshop in the garage, and I’d just go out there and work on it any chance I could get.

“It was an interesting project, because you have to cut out the notes and then you actually have to sand them and tune them to the correct pitch. And the same thing with the PVC pipe – they have to be cut and sanded down to match the pitch of the notes. So it’s a pretty long process.”

Breanna, who has been practicing with the marimba in preparation for Petal’s first football game, is quite pleased with the results of her dad’s labors.

“I have the best dad ever,” she said. “To my surprise, he was making me a marimba secretly for over three months.

“I am the luckiest daughter in the world. I now have a way to practice at home.”