Music is a universal connector of people. It matters less whether you play guitar or drums, repair or create wooden percussion, instruct in musical theory or finger-strumming technique or simply enjoy those gifts in others; music releases passion and connects souls whenever and wherever it touches.
Ken and Trish Brooks built their lives, together, on all of the above. Having met in a computer course where Trish took notice after Ken played the guitar in class, the couple married and built a life that centered on music in every aspect of their lives.
Two years ago the couple opened Strum Hollow Music on Beverly Court in Spring Hill and filled their store with all the things that fuel their passions. The walls display different types of string instruments, from mandolins to banjos and acoustic guitars. They also stock unusual music-inspired novelties, such as party wear, jewelry and even mouse pads.
But what really sets Strum Hollow apart from other music stores is the diversity of what goes on inside the cozy shop. The Brookses are masters of, well, everything musical. They are performers, vocalists and players of nearly any string instrument. They instruct more than 50 regular students. Gifted in woodworking, they also craft and repair instruments, and even create those hard to find instruments that appeal to dedicated musicians of real traditional mountain-type music.
The countless varieties of objects came from the online retail website the Brookses began years ago, starting with a few themed T-shirts. They monitored the online store and gave musical instruction from their home for years, building a following of dedicated customers and students.
And here is where their story takes on added inspiration. Ken and Trish don't just share the same musical ambitions and passions. They also share a unique journey, both battling Lyme disease that they contracted while at a craft event in Connecticut.
As their disease progressed, their dreams were inhibited a bit and the two were forced to find creative ways to keep working while adapting to their new challenges. "It's good we got it together," Trish said, "because we fully understand what the other is going through."
Lyme disease is contracted from infected ticks that carry the virus. Once in the human blood stream, Lyme disease attacks the muscles and joints, often causing symptoms of paralysis. Both Ken and Trish suffered similar symptoms, often losing feeling in different areas of their bodies that directly affected their ability to engage in their passions.
It was years before they were diagnosed. And they never gave up looking for new ways to relieve their symptoms. After stumbling on an herbal treatment about two years ago, many of their symptoms started to improve. It was right around that time that they were told by a zoning officer that they could no longer operate their business from their home.
"It seemed like everything was happening at the same time," Trish remembered. "I guess it was meant for us to get into our own shop."
They discovered the storefront on Beverly Court, next door to Gator Nutrition, and got to work transforming their new space into the perfect compilation of everything the Brooks represented. And they began building a solid reputation as the place to go for anything related to music, particularly string instruments and unusual items.
The store is filled with really cool music makers. Washboards, dancing men, and kazoos are prevalent among the inventory. And Ken will demonstrate them on the spot, showing his unique talent to adapt his skill to any instrument.
One of their students, J. B. Dill, has been taking lessons on the banjo for about a year. "It was on my bucket list to play banjo," she said.
Dill found the Brooks and was immediately comfortable. "I'm a hillbilly," she said. "I walked in here and saw washboards and jugs. And I knew immediately that these people speak mountain. That's when I knew I was home."
What is most intriguing about the Brookses is their amazing attitude toward life and their ability to adapt to any change in their projected course. They seem to approach each new challenge as if it were another opportunity to learn something new.
When they are not instructing a student, ordering inventory, monitoring their online store or repairing instruments, they are researching for different projects. In fact, the two are the process of repairing a banjo they had originally crafted, using the skin of a dead opossum. The animal had been hit by a car, Trish clarified. "We don't kill them." But they did skin the carcass and used it to build the instrument from scratch.
Unfortunately, exposure to damaging heat warped the banjo, forcing them to find a new skin to replace the old. They are looking to immortalize another opossum that has met an untimely death.
There are easier ways to "skin an opossum," the couple admitted. "You can purchase the skin," Trish said. But they are all about doing things for the experience. In fact, they researched how to build the instrument the old Appalachian way. Cutting corners isn't an option.
Strum Hollow is open Monday through Thursday from 12 p.m. until 8 p.m. and Friday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
"On Saturday and Sunday, we rest," Trish said, "because there's more to life than making money."
Hernando Today correspondent Kim Dame can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org