Founding Andante Drums
Pipe bands around the world use Sam Hodgen-designed drums. We look back at his remarkable story
Percussion is everywhere on the planet – yet nowhere is it exactly the same. Each culture responds to its own influences, bringing indigenous solutions to the task of rhythm making.
Sam Hodgen, who passed away in 2009, had an unassuming demeanour despite his remarkable influence on music in general, and percussion in particular. From humble beginnings in a small workshop in Rathfriland, County Down, Hodgen developed innovative drum technology to establish a product now widely considered as the world leader in its class.
Hodgen got into the drum business largely by accident. An engineer by profession, he was originally asked to undertake some drum repair work for the local Moneygore Pipe Band. 'It was fun at the start, but after a while no matter what I did something else broke.'
In frustration, he looked around the marketplace to see if he could glean some inspiration from other drums on offer. Disappointed by what he found, he decided to put his engineering skills to the test and see if he could produce something better.
Initially, Hodgen only intended to make four or five drums, but was so enthused by the reaction to his first drum that he decided to take a prototype to the 1987 World Solo Drumming Championships in Scotland.
He arrived in Glasgow with the drum but with nobody to play it. 'I asked six contestants to give it a try, but they all refused, and some of them were not too polite!' Eventually, noted drummer John Scullion was approached, although like the others he initially declined. Hodgen persuaded him to examine the drum, and finally he hooked it onto his belt.
'He played a roll, two flams and a paradiddle, pointed his drumsticks straight at me and said, "I’ll play your drum today". And he did.'
While Scullion didn’t win any prizes at the event, a number of other contestants showed interest, including the eventual winner and runner up. Hodgen left Glasgow that day with five sets of drums sold and a deposit for two sets in his pocket, 'and I hadn’t even worked out a price.' Back in Ballyroney the phone began to ring, and within two weeks of the Glasgow debut, fifteen orders had been placed.
There was no turning back. Andante Percussion was born, with commercial operations commencing in March 1987.
The business prospered. New premises were built in 1990 and Hodgen designed and installed more efficient machinery to meet increasing market demand.
On average, Andante produces around 1400 drums a year and exports them around the world. 'The only country I know I haven’t sold drums to is Russia. Almost every other country you could name has a band playing on Andante drums.'
According to Hodgen, 'Andante is the lightest snare drum in the world'. The unique drumhead system which he devised, ensures the woven Kevlar heads can be accurately set at, and retain, the precise tension required. It may not be surprising to learn that many world championship bands play Andante.
A regular attendee at all World Championships, Hodgen spent a significant time abroad each year, seeking out new marketing opportunities and consulting about product innovations. 'I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world where pipe band people wouldn’t recognize me.'
Hodgen was always proud to state that he manufactured 'the best product in the world', and a number of world champions have won with Andante Drums, including 2011 World Solos Drumming Champion Steven McWhirter.