Monthly Archive for February, 2009

Conspirare In Concert

Coming to a PBS station near you later this year, is Conspirare’s Company of Voices concert. This is certainly one not to miss! Conspirare is a nationally recognized and Grammy nominated chorus that resides in Texas. What is interesting about this concert, is that many of the pieces are paired with percussion ensemble. Yes, percussion ensemble and choir.

That is pretty exciting by itself, but even more exciting is the amount of mallet instruments that are used. From the looks of things at least 2 marimbas, 2 vibraphones, and a glockenspiel were used. I also saw drumset, crotales, steel drums, triangle and other auxilliary percussion instruments.

And if that wasn’t exciting enough, the director of the percussion ensemble, Thomas Burritt joins in on the playing and also did the orchestrations for one of the pieces.

But wait, there is even more excitement! Craig Hella Johnson is a native of Minnesota, where I currently live, and went to St. Olfa College. He was quoted in one of the interviews as saying “I went to St. Olaf which was a big choral school, …, I saw the Minnesota Orchestra and I was blown away”. Oh and BTW went to University of Illinois and Julliard and Yale and Germany, etc.

To listen to Tryptych online before the PBS special, head over here, or watch the embedded video as part of this post.


“Trptych” by Conspirare from KLRU / Conspirare on Vimeo.

Learning an Etude online

As part of the Percussion Axiom TV weekly podcast by Thomas Burritt, I am learning Gordon Stout’s Etude #3 from Book 1 of Etudes. If you want to follow along, feel free to sign up for the weekly podcast.

One of the ways to assist in learning a new piece is to record yourself playing it and critique yourself. With the available tools in many computers, and hosting web sites like YouTube, you can take that one step further and post your videos for others to view and post comments.

I have posted my first 4 attempts of measures 1-14 of this piece on YouTube in the MarimbaSass channel.

This effort has payed off already as I received a comment saying that I was playing a part of one of the measures in the wrong octave. I went back to the music and confirmed he was correct. Take 4 now has the corrected notes. Now that is a real use of these Web 2.0 social media tools. For the other marimbists learning the piece, feel free to post your playing too!

MacRimba Marimba Ensemble

MacRimba is the name of a marimba ensemble class at the MacPhail Center for Music in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. The group was formed over ten years ago and then took a break for a number of years until 2008 when the MacPhail Center opened in their new state-of-the-art facility. I have been a member of MacRimba since 2008 and have thoroughly enjoyed having a additional opportunity to perform on this wonderful instrument.

Last semester I had the opportunity to play the lead xylophone solo for “Stars and Stripes Forever”. This was pretty challenging for a 2-mallet solo and has the added issue of everyone knowing the melody so any wrong note is easy to spot. One other thing to note is that the Marimba Festival Orchestra (a very exciting event where over 100 marimbists were on the stage at the same time) played this piece on their Marimba Festival Orchestra CD. Bob Becker played the xylophone solo for that event. I hope this idea of a mass marimba concert happens again. As long as it is in the United States, I will drive my car to be a part of it.

Reason for starting a marimba blog

Thomas Burritt has a wonderful web site that includes a weekly podcast called Percussion Axiom. Each week he discusses an aspect of the percussion happenings and many of them are focused on the marimba.

I first saw Tom at PASIC (Percussive Arts Society International Convention) in 2000 where he participated in the New Music Day for Marimba. A copy of that program is available as a PDF. Since this was my first PASIC I didn’t introduce myself to too many people as I was still in awe at the sheer talent and magnitude of the percussion event. I will post more about PASIC in a future entry.

One of the very cool things in a recent episode of Percussion Axiom TV, was Tom’s suggestion to learn a marimba piece together as an online community. When I heard about this I was thrilled and scared! I wasn’t a music major in college (most of my friend’s were) so I didn’t spent 6 hours in the practice room. However, I do own a 5-octave MarimbaOne and I am as highly motivated as someone can be about a percussion instrument!

There was an online vote as to which piece to play and we started 2 weeks ago. As I started working on the piece, I noticed that I had more to say than what could be said in a comment on Tom’s web site or via Twitter, so I decided it was time to make a marimba blog.

I bought www.jeffsass.com years ago because it was available so now is a great time to use it. So here we are! I am a marimbist with a blog and I am going to use it to better the percussion community and help foster a discussion about not only the piece we are learning together but any marimba topic in general.

Welcome to MarimbaSass

Hi everyone – welcome to my marimba blog. The purpose of this blog is to talk about anything related to the marimba and the never ending pursuit of creating fantastic musical experiences on a non-standard instrument.

For my initial post instead of a long-winded introduction and background of who I am and why I am doing this I am instead going to jump right in to the matter at hand. So join the conversation and head over to my second post.