History of the Marimba. Information and definitions via the web:
The Marimba has its roots in Africa and the Americas. The bars that produce the wonderful dark tones are made from rosewood, a hardwood found in tropical forests. The African west coast and Central America are home to many master musicians that play different versions of this instrument. Central America in particular has a long and deep history with the Marimba. The "Marimba Sencilla", developed from the decendent of African Xylophone, has about forty five keys, each with a gourd resonator. It is played by three to five players. According to Vida Chenowith, the first chromatic Marimba was made by Jose Chaequin and Manuel Lopez. It was presented to the public in Guatemala in 1874. The chromatic Marimba was refined by Sebastian Hurtado. This six and a half octave Marimba is the national musical instrument of Guatemala.
The roots of the African marimba were revived in the United States in the 1980's when Dr. Dumi Sani Marire came to the Pacific Northwest. A teacher residing in Zimbabwe, Dr. Marire brought the Zimbabwean style of marimba music here, also know as Shona. Since winning independence in 1980 from British colonial rule, traditional and contemporary Shona music is once again an open and vibrant part of Zimbabwean society and is spreading throughout the world. Because of the influence of Dr. Marire, Zimbabwean style Marimba Bands have spread throughout the US and Canada, with a heavy concentration in the Pacific Northwest. Performances of Shona are thrilling.
The Marimba was first introduced to North America in 1908 by the Hurtado family marimba band. In the U.S. and Europe many 20th century composers have created large works for the Marimba, just as you'd find for piano, violin, or flute. A solo marimba performance can be a compelling experience. The instrument itself has a striking appearance, and the range of sounds it is capable of producing are rich and uniquely beautiful.
Modern marimbas are constructed using rosewood for the bars and aluminum and/or brass for the resonators. Due to shortages in tropical hardwoods and growing environmental concerns, materials such as fiberglass are being developed to replace the hardwoods. The success of these attempts has been mixed. The range of the instrument varies depending on the model, and it is fairly standardized among manufacturers, mainly 4, 4.3, 4.5 and 5 octaves with the second C above treble staff as the highist note.
In Jazz, the marimba has also found a home. Jazz vibes players such as Bobby Hutcherson and Gary Burton have included the marimba in many of their recordings. In fact, the group "Double Image" uses a vibraphone and marimba to head up the band. The popular Jazz fusion group "Spyro Gyra" features a marimba soloist.
In a world full of technology, where modern music is dominated by electronic instruments, simple acoustic instruments are finding a large audience. Hand made percussion instruments from South and Central America, exotic horns made from giant sea shells, and even Australian aboriginal instruments are being used more and more in contemporary western music. The marimba, born in tribal Africa, is a big part of this musical trend.
All in all, few instruments can boast such a wide range of expression. You'll find the marimba performing the music of Bach, traditional music of indiginous peoples in Indonesia, contemporary American jazz, and modern symphonic orchestral music. What a range!
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