Deagan Una-Fon - Monday, July 13, 2015

"The Deagan Una-Fon has brass band volume to attract the crowd - and the quality of tone to hold it."  So reads the boldfaced slogan at the top of an article describing the benefits of buying your very own Deagan Una-Fon.  So, what is this unusual instrument, you may ask?  Well, worry not!  We are happy to dedicate today's ENTIRE blog to the story of this oddity of American music.

John Calhoun (J.C.) Deagan was born in Hector, New York in 1853.  Steam power was used quite efficiently to operate machinery when he was a boy but, by the time he reached adulthood he saw the power and potential of electricity.  A professional clarinetist, he became fascinated with percussion and came up with a way to scientifically tune glockenspiels (metal xylophones) and organ chimes.  He sold xylophones that created a very distinctive and strong sound and became essential for many orchestras.  He also made the marimba a popular instrument in America.  In 1898 he built his own factory in Chicago and called it the J.C. Deagan Musical Bells, Inc.  There, he produced numerous types of mallet-using percussion instruments, including the Una-Fon.  

So, what is the Uni-Fon?  It is an electric device played with a keyboard - like a piano - but instead of making music by having little hammers strike strings, music is made when metal mallets hit bells of different sizes.   Along with the keyboard, they can also work off of paper rolls.  These unusual devices are uncommon survivors of a different era.  Unfortunately, the Deagan name is rarely remembered today outside of the world of percussion, although the influence of this unique man continues through the contributions he made to the enjoyment and production of music.

QUOTE:  Hearing is a form of touch.  You feel it through your body, and sometimes it almost hits your face. - Evelyn Glennie