Russell’s Reflections

We are quite honored you are taking time to visit us, virtually, and invite you to take any opportunity you have to visit us personally someday. We’d be tickled for you to tour the shop, meet the craftsmen, and see the tools and jigs we use as well as the woods from all over the world we choose to work with. If you were of a mind to, you can even choose every single piece of wood you’d have us use in the process of handcrafting your once-in-a-life-time new family heirloom. By the way, we’ve been seeing a lot of 10 to 25 year old Russell Cook/Master Works instruments coming into the shop for restringing, refinishing, chromatics, dampers, microphones, a little tender care and nurturing, etc, as players are hanging on to their instruments long, long term. It’s very gratifying to know how satisfied these players are, not just initially but many long years of making music later! Anyway, your visit will net other benefits, as well. You’ll get to visit the beautiful southeastern Oklahoma countryside filled with ranches and farms, numerous lakes and rivers, lots of forests plus tons of Native American history. By the way, we have wonderful facilities near the workshop if you’d care to park your RV or tent and visit with the deer, turkeys and raccoons!

So, how in the world did Master Works wind up in such a location? Good question and if you have a minute, I’ll share with you some of the reasons we live here. If you want to check out the entire story, you can find that here on the website under “About Us”.

Back in 1993, Merla and I had the opportunity to purchase 40 acres adjacent to my sister Sheryl’s 40 acres which was adjacent to Dad and Mom’s small ranch (my childhood home place) which was adjacent to my other sister’s 40 acres which was across the road from their other 40 acres, etc. (folks around here call it Cookville!). We had recently passed up 100 acres down the road at an astronomical price of $250 per (all this land is now going for about $2000 per – GAG!). If you’re looking at a map, you will find Bennington halfway between Durant and Hugo on Hwy 70. We still lived and worked in Arlington, Texas where we called our offices, storage facility and recording studio “Wood ‘N Strings”. We constantly traveled back and forth, spending a lot of time here visiting family while catching fish, chasing deer and 4 wheeling with the boys. My goodness, we have so enjoyed all the many aspects of our little slice of country life. How blessed are we!!

Eventually, Master Works workshop relocated here from Colorado (1994). I finally realized it didn’t really matter where the shop was located as our instruments were shipped all over the world. Of course with the shop located here, the ability and “necessity” (awe shucks!) to spend even more time here increased, although the many trips to Estes Park, Colorado would be missed. An extra nice blessing was the ability to get the boys out of the city and into the country often while spending more time around their Papa Cook. Again, how blessed are we!?

So, after many years of this configuration, all the while planning to someday retire here, Merla and I made the difficult decision to sell out in Texas, give up paying the ten’s of thousands of dollars in property taxes each year and move lock, stock and barrel to Bennington, going from a 3000’ house full of furniture to a 800’ cabin already furnished!! We also had to give up our friend, manager and confidant, Beth. But we figured things as best we could in the office. Pheyland moved with WNS to Oklahoma with us and kept the office and shipping going as well as possible until the Lord finally took pity on us and sent Sheila to rescue us. Anyway, after much research and planning, we finally settled on a house plan and by Christmas should have a new home to spread out in, have family and friends over and share with our first (but not last, we hope) grandchild, Jamie Marie. Thank goodness, it is located adjacent the cabin so we will continue to soak up the colorful sunrises, glorious sunsets, the playful deer, swimming geese and ducks, aggravating raccoons and crows, the hundreds of feeding birds (especially the flaming red Cardinals) and baby our little garden down by the lake. The pines we planted years ago are trying to grow through the droughts of the past few years but at least they’re still alive. It is full bloom spring-time here as the Jonquils are blooming, plum trees smell like heaven and the rolling hills are green as Ireland.

A lot of changes in our personal life have taken place the past couple of years, as well. The boys have both graduated from Oklahoma University (YEE HAWW!!). Cory was married Dec 30, 2005 and just gave us our first grandchild this January. Merla’s mother and my father have passed away and Mom is living alone, but just down the road from my sister and us. We moved out of the city where we started our dulcimer journey and raised our sons. These and many more changes bring to mind the thousands of steps we have traveled on our unusual but wonderful 28 year-long path of going from teachers in Oklahoma to making a living playing and crafting this ancient box of strings! It has been magnificent, but how could I have ever dreamed up such a scheme? I didn’t!! I am ultra confident God has orchestrated all this and much more I’m not even aware of. God is so creative and apparently takes great joy in changing the lives of those whom He chooses and those who will permit Him to change their lives. I hope Merla and I never tire of seeking God’s will in our life and it is our prayer for you, our dulcimer family, that you also consistently seek Gods favor while allowing Him to work important changes in your life. If you are, you already are experiencing the joy of walking with Christ. If you’ve never sought such a wonderful relationship with Christ, why not right now? I humbly offer you my most sincere guarantee – you will never be sorry you did!

Well, back to dulcimers, how did you get interested in hammer and mountain dulcimers or bowed psalteries? How has it changed your life? We’d love to hear from you. It is a source of great joy to know we’ve been involved in a small way in bringing this unusual music and the instruments to many folks who, like ourselves, never dreamed of such an instrument, much less playing one! Won’t you take time to share with us your story? While keeping it somewhat condensed, please tell us, from the heart, your life changing experience. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, as you become nostalgic in a dulcimer way and share with us your “coincidences”, you’ll notice a wonderful orchestrated plan taking form in your life that you may have never recognized before! Or not – maybe you’re just having a great time sharing in the wonderful world of dulcimer music as are we. Ain’t the dulcimer side of life grand?!

Come see us!