aaahhh….. MARIMBA

Back in my youth teenagers  performing music was not a common phenomena. In Sydney, Australia, while in  my  late teens AM top forty radio was the big mover on the local music scene. Of course there were local cover bands of mostly older professional musicians but none of my teen age friends  ever gave a thought to actually playing music. I was probably the only one in my peer group who owned an instrument. It was early days and I was at that horrible stumbling stage of  trying to figure out how to actually play a guitar. It wasn’t until classic rock became “a thing” that things began to change. When I started to pay serious attention to music the late night radio broadcasts  were on the tail end of the swing era with big band tributes and crooners like Frank Sinatra ruling the late night air waves. When Bob Dylan, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, etc   kicked off the  modern singer/songwriter rock era Modern Jazz and folk music were on the fringe of the local music scene and “Classic Rock” wasn’t even a concept at that stage. By the mid sixties that had changed and every young guy on the planet picked up a guitar and started churning out the new music. For a young guy an electric guitar was an instant “chick magnet”. The era of the guitar god became the order of the day and that is the way it has been ever since. Now, maybe that is changing. Rick Beato, the YouTube music critic and promoter, commented in a recent YouTube video that  when young people socialize  these days they no longer seem to be interested in playing music. They are more interested in playing video games. So maybe the Electric Guitar era has just about run its course. The legendary performers are dropping like flies and the bands left over from the classic rock era are populated by really, really old men. It is probably time to move on.
For me, the new thing, and don’t laugh, is the marimba. I know it maybe only be because the YouTube algorithms are selecting from my playlists and that only re-enforces my current interests in Marimba performances by young nerdy guys or cute Asian ladies. That seems to be their instrument of choice. For me there is something very appealing about a huge five octave marimba played by two handed musicians with four mallets. The resulting sounds are magical. There seems to be masses of musicians and new composers churning out musically spectacular performances on Marimbas. I was first turned onto marimba music way back in the mid-1980s when I first heard Steve Reich’s Six Marimbas. For some audiences  the music is an advanced  form of sonic Chinese water torture. As a comment I think that is a little unkind. I admit it is very repetitious but if you really, really listen there is a lot going on in the music. I have been listening to that piece for over thirty years and I still find it enthralling. It was originally written for six Grand Pianos but I guess getting six grand pianos into a room  was a logistical nightmare. For six Marimbas that is still a physical challenge but getting them into  a concert space it is doable. Steve Reich is a modern classical composer who, along with Phillip Glass, Terry Riley and others has re-invented modern classical music. So while pop/rock music seems to have gone down the rabbit hole of massive arena performances, modern classical musicians seem to have stripped away the excesses of modern pop music  to produce performances that are both sonically and visually interesting.
So here is a recent performance of Steve Reich’s magical Six Marimbas performed by HAMIRUGE – THE LOUSIANA STATE UNIVERSITY  GROUP under the direction of Brett Dietz.

 It doesn’t end there. The piece has been re-arranged for Indonesian Gamelan. I think that works almost as well. The Indonesian Gamelan Orchestras were a major influence on Reich’s music.

 For a more traditional Classical approach to music check out the magnificent arrangement of the Chaconne from  Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004. It was composed in between 1717-1720. The  Chaconne reflects Bach’s thorough appreciation for the violin as an instrument of musical expression. At one level it is a simple piece of music  – the 256-measure-long work consists of 64 variants on the four-measure phrase heard at the beginning. Check out the dynamics in the performance of this piece.

On a jazzier note check out Mika Stoltzman’s Marimba Madness with a  combo that included the great drummer Steve Gadd who appears to be faultlessly sight reading the drum parts. Enjoy……

Ivan Trevino is one of a number of composers churning out new music for Marimba and Vibraphone. This is one of his pieces called Catching Shadows. The inclusion of the drum kit is a nice touch.

Another version scored  for Percussion Sextet. How do high school kids get this good?

Here is a performance of Velocities compose by Joseph Schwantner (born March 22, 1943) an American compose and educator. He is prolific, with many works to his credit. His style is coloristic and eclectic, drawing on such diverse elements as French impressionism, African drumming, and minimalism. His orchestral work  Aftertones of Infinity received the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Music (Wikipedia).

That is just a few performances available on YouTube.