Participant at the 2009 Zeltsman Marimba Festival

This summer I will be attending the Zeltsman Marimba Festival in Appleton, Wisconsin. There aren’t that many marimbist in the world compared with pianists or other instruments but there are a number of festivals and seminars to choose from. Luckily for me, this one is within driving distance (especially since I am taking my 5-octave MarimbaOne marimba). Most of the people that attend these events will be college students who are still working on their BS or MS degrees. So maybe I will be the “old guy”. Wait a minute I am not old am I? I might not have their technical skill, but I will have an incredible passion for the instrument that will be hard to be matched! There is a 5 hour marathon concert at the end of the 2 weeks where all of the participants play. Last year I drove over just to see this event and it was worth the drive! Sitting at a 5 hour concert with no break reminds me of a certain 54-hour straight trivia contest that I just finished. But I digress…

One other extrememly exciting part of this two week festival is the introduction of 24 new intermediate marimba pieces. One of them was composed by Paul Simon! I will post more about this exciting event as we get closer. For now, it is time to practice. Playing marimba pieces in front of extremely talented marimbist requires real work and I am up to the challenge.

Percussion Axiom TV #30 – “Don’t Be a Blockhead”

In the continuing online learning exercise to learn Gordon Stout’s Etude #3 from Book 1 for marimba, Thomas Burritt has posted Percussion Axiom TV episode 30. That video is also inline below.

The episode goes over the final measures of the etude and talk about a concept called blocking. Thinking that I was somehow better than the teacher, instead of listening to how the chord progression works and how important it is to put that under your hands first, I decided to be a “blockhead”. I was going to do this my own way and just do the notes and the rhythms at the same time. Well that was significantly harder and caused extreme frustration on my part. Weeks passed, and after hitting a dead end, it was time to re-watch the episode and understand what Dr. Burritt was saying. So, I started fresh and now have completed the last part of the etude.

There are still a couple wrong notes but I can say that I can successfully play the entire etude now. Stay tuned for future posts where I put all of the sections together and try and increase the tempo to something closer to what the composer intended. Remember, don’t be a blockhead. ūüôā Here is Take 7 of the etude.

Classical Marimba League – Photos and Program Notes

In this final post about the Classical Marimba League performances at the University of Minnesota, I wanted to share some photos as well as the program notes.

The U of M events website publishes PDF versions of all of there events (what an excellent idea). Program notes from the Marimba Composition Contest Concert and the Marimba Competition Winners Concert are available.

I have made a photo gallery with the pictures from the event.

Finally, I met Brian Duffy of Penumbra Percussion Duo. I went to school at Drake University with Brian Duffy and knew that he now lived in the area. It has been a number of years since we bumped into each other but it was no surprise he was at this marimba event.

Chat with Nathan Daughtrey

I had a chance to have a chat with Nathan Daughtrey, Director of Operations of the Classical Marimba League, when here was here in Minnesota. This wasn’t a formal interview but I thought I would share the marimba related items we talked about.

The Classical Marimba League started about 3 years ago and was initially led by Mr. Dunnington. The marimba competition accepted CD submissions of the marimba performances this year. In future years, Nathan would like to require video submissions.

The three winners all flew into Minnesota to perform (one from Taiwan, the other two are persuing degrees here in the US). In the future Nathan would like to tie the competition concert into other events possibly including other Days of Percussion or PASIC.

Nathan has composed many works for percussion, I asked him about “The Yuletide Marimbist” which is a book of Christmas pieces arranged for marimba. A CD is also available for purchase. Nathan stated that he started these pieces as a intermediate level but the compositions ended up being a bit more advanced than that when they were finished.

I also asked Nathan about the Vic Firth Concert Podcast since that is one of my favorite marimba destinations on the Internet. He said the he is thrilled to contribute to that project and that this is a great way to provide free access to percussion literature performed at a high level instead of just a video camera of someone in their practice room. I couldn’t agree more and hope that this website continues to deliver high quality videos of percussion performances.

I realized I was taking pictures as part of the event but forgot to take one with Nathan. If you are interested, head over to Facebook and become a fan of the Classical Marimba League to see some photos.

Classical Marimba League at The University of Minnesota – Marimba Competition Winners Concert

The Classical Marimba League Marimba Competition Winners Concert was held at the University of Minnesota at Lloyd Ultan Recital Hall on April 2nd at 7:30pm. The Classical Marimba League has setup a Facebook page with much clearer photos of the event so please go “become a fan” on Facebook of this great new organization.

The concert started with an introduction by Fernando Meza and  Nathan Daughtrey talking about what we were going to hear this evening. The three performers were the winners of the marimba competition part of the CML and would each be playing the pieces they submitted for their jury.

First to perform was third place winner Yun-Ju Chou. She graduated from the National Taiwan Normal University in 2007 studying under Professor Yiu-Kwong Chung. She has won many awards and marimba competitions in Taipei. She started with Yiu-Kwong Chung’s “Concerto for Marimba and Wind Ensemble (mvmt. II Cadenza/Fuga)”. This piece was a straightforward Fugue with a light pretty melody. She played it with a light touch and nice dynamic contrast. After the piece was over there was a small uncomfortable moment where the audience started to applaud but then stopped because they weren’t sure this piece was complete. I will admit to the same confusion because I didn’t know the piece. This then meant that there was no applause for her pieces until all 3 were complete. I want to ensure Ms. Chou that it was not because the audience did not like the first two pieces. The second piece was Peter Klatzow’s “Dances of Earth and Fire”. Wow. This is one of the tour de force marimba standards that I have heard about many times but have never seen in person. When it is played at this level it will certainly win a marimba competition or two! The arpeggiated passages take you all over the instrument and it just seems endless in how the notes and lunges just keep coming. The notes that I wrote while watching this was “this piece is insane”. The final piece was Keiko Abe’s Marimba d’Amore. This piece is (ironically) on the Vic Firth concert podcast page by none other than CML’s own Nathan Daughtrey. What was impressive about this performance was how relaxed her hands were while playing such a powerful piece. Especially at the end you felt the power without seeing the effort needed to generate that power. For all of the students in the audience, I hope this point wasn’t lost.

Second to perform was second place winner Hiromi Kamiya. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Marimba Performance from Aichi Prefectural University where she studied unter Momoko Kamiya. She has won awards from first prize to semi-finalist in many marimba competitions and she is currently persuing a Graduate Artist Certificate from the Univeristy of North Texas with Mark Ford. First up, was Andrew Thomas’ Merlin. Another standard in the advanced marimba literature, this piece can be found on many marimba CDs including Nancy Zeltsman, Greg Giannascoli and William Moersch (and probably a lot more). This is another of the standard pieces that I have listened to many times but never seen played in person. This was truly the highlight of the evening. This piece truly invokes visions of King Arthur during the subtle rolling sections of movement 1. They rise and fall into dramatic booming passages which evoke an almost trumpet like summoning of the guards. Movement 2 rips into faster passages that compliment the rolling passages of movement 1. I was litteraly mesmerized by the performance, so much so that when I heard a single stick click I wrote down “she is actually human”. Bravo! The second piece was the USA premiere of Hirotake Kitakata’s “HATO-OTO”. I love being able to be a part of history and listening to a premiere and this was no exception. The piece started with a left hand double vertical pattern and a delicate melody in the right hand. Then without warning and with a surprise like a home run in baseball, the piece turns into a jazzy-crowd pleaser! Are you kidding – Jazz? Well we have a new advanced piece in the literature that will sure to make the rounds – this one is a keeper.

Third to perform was the first place winner Yi-Chia Chen. She received her Bachelor’s in Music Education from the National University of Tainan, Taiwan in 2006 and a Master’s Degree in Percussion Performance from Arizona State University in 2008. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in percussion performance with Dr. J.B. Smith and Mark Sunkett. She was the first prize winner of the 2007 PASIC Solo Marimba Competition. She began with Eric Sammut’s “Cameleon”. Sammut is probably the most famous four his “Four Rotations” but “Cameleon” is also frequently played. The ease at which Yi-Chia, moved across the bars, with a relaxed ease and this melody was very pleasing. The second piece was Keiko Abe’s “Variations on Japanese Children’s Songs”. Another classic in the repretoire, this powerful piece requires a confident technique to deliver very quick attacks. Ms. Chen performed this confidently. Finally, the evening was concluded with Claude Debussy’s “Dr. Graddus ad Parnassum (from Children’s Corner Suite)”. Ms. Chen played this a little bit faster that traditionally played and it lost a little of the emotion due to the technique needed to play it this fast. However, it was still a wonderful performance on a piece that is far from easy to play.

The evening was amazing. To hear marimba classics played by extremely talented performers and to hear new premieres in the same concert was a real treat. With respect to all of the performers, I would personally have put Ms. Kamiya as the first place winner based on these live performances, but all three were simply amazing! Thank you for a wonderful performance. To see the pictures of the perfomers, visit the Facebook page of the Classical Marimba League, or the Twitpic pictures of: Yun-Ju Chou, Hiromi Kamiya, and Yi-Chia Chen.

Classical Marimba League at The University of Minnesota – Composition Contest Winners Concert

The Classical Marimba League Composition Contest Winners Concert was held at the University of Minnesota at Lloyd Ultan Recital Hall on April 1st at 7:30pm.

The concert was performed by undergraduate and graduate students of Fernando Meza’s percussion studio at the U of M and showcased a few pieces from the standard marimba literature as well as three new composition contest winners. The full program including performance notes is available.

The first piece was Steven Mackey’s “See Ya Thursday” performed by Adam Rappel. Most marimbist are familiar with this piece on Nancy Zeltsman’s CD of the same name. For me, this was the first time I have seen this played and what an acrobatic treat it was. This is an advanced piece not because the notes are flying fast and furious but because of the long stretches and arm reaches to cover the entire 5 octaves of the marimba. I enjoyed Adam’s touch and his ability to convey that sometimes music is not about the notes, but the space between the notes.

The second piece was Ross Edwards “Marimba Dances” performed by Brittany Piatz. Evelynne Glennie has performed this on her “Light In Darkness” CD. A piece in 3 movements, movement 3 was performed this evening. Brittany has a nice appreciation for dynamic range throughout and a couple note mistakes didn’t detract from the overall performance which was well received. I did wish this piece would have “danced” a little more and because the room was very dry the mallets were one grade too hard.

The third piece was Robert Schumann’s “Remembrance” performed by Eric Neseth. Leigh Howard Stevens¬†arranged and performed this on his CD “Marimba When”. These familiar melodies for piano fit very nicely on the marimba. Tonight’s performance by Eric was note accurate, conveyed the correct style, and was appropriately “pretty”.

The fourth piece was Leander Kaiser’s “Minotaurus 4.3” performed by Scotty Horey.¬†This piece was the winner in the classical category of the CML competition.¬†The excitement of seeing a new piece performed was only matched by Scotty’s powerful and confident command of the marimba. The piece’s difficultly appeared to be at the advanced college level and didn’t appear to require advanced marimba techniques. There were a number of arpeggio sections sprinkled through the 8 minutes and the piece ended with a powerful and satisfying ending.

The fifth piece was Jens Schliecker and Nils Rohwer’s “ConcorDance” performed by Adam Rappel, marimba and Leah Siltberg, piano. Although the program didn’t mention this was in two movements there was a definite break between the 4 mallet first movement and the 2 mallet second movement. The piece does require a 5-octave marimba. The piece started with some tonal chords that were balanced very well with the piano throughout movement 1. For the second part, the rhythm picked up and the the piece had some “pop”.

The sixth and final piece was Kit Mills “Three European Folksongs” performed by Jennifer Klukken, Brittany Piatz, and Ethan Shervey performing at the same time on one 5-octave marimba. This piece was the winner of the romantic category of the CML. Movement 1 was entitled “French” and featured a 2-mallet player on the top octave with the other two performers using 4-mallets in the lower registers. Movement 2 entitled “English” which features good passion and energy by the performers and some sections requiring rolls. Movement 3 entitled “Spanish” started with a 4-mallet solo which handed off to a 2-mallet cadenza and then a 12/8 triplet feeling melody. A quick suprise with the mallet shafts kept the piece lively and light and definitely earned the title “Spanish”. All 3 performers negotiated the mallet changes and close playing quarters very nicely and this piece was received very well by myself and the audience.

Overall this was a wonderful concert which was enjoyed by over 50 audience members. I want to personally thank all of the players for a very enjoyable evening. I have included a photo below of the performers. The next blog post will focus on the marimba competition part of the event.


Classical Marimba League at The University of Minnesota – Part 1

The Classical Marimba League “accomplishes it’s mission through the promotion of new classical music composed by the most creative emerging talents in the arts today”.

One of the challenges that the marimba faces as a concert instrument is that most of the standard literature written for the marimba has been written in the last 60-70 years. That isn’t to say all of the marimba music is 20th century, but when you compare that to the violin or the piano, there is a large gap in marimba music written in the older classical styles.

In addition to Composition Competitions, there are semi-annual Marimba Artist Competitions to showcase both the new music as well as the talents of many marimbists.

April 1st and 2nd (tonight and tomorrow), at the University of Minnesota, there is a public concert featuring the Classical Marimba League. I contacted the host of the event Fernando Meza (University of Minnesota Associate Professor of Percussion and Director of Percussion Studies), to see what pieces will be performed. I also saw via Twitter that Nathan Daughtrey will be flying in for the event. I will post more as the event progresses. For now, here is the list of pieces that will be performed. Enjoy! I know that I will!

April 1st—–

See Ya Thursday – Steven Mackey
Adam Rappel, marimba

Marimba Dances – Ross Edwards
Brittany Piatz, marimba

Remembrance – Robert Schumann (arr. Stevens)
Eric Neseth, marimba

Winner, CML Classical category:
Minotaurus 4.3 –¬† Leander Kaiser
Scotty Horey, marimba

Honorable Mention, CML 21st Century category:
ConcorDance –¬† Jens Schliecker/Nils Rohwer
Adam Rappel, marimba
Leah Siltberg, piano

Winner, CML Romantic category:
Three European Folksongs –¬† Kit Mills
I. French
II. English
III. Spanish
Jennifer Klukken, Brittany Piatz, Ethan Shervey, marimbas

April 2 —-

(3rd place winner)
Concerto for Marimba and Wind Ensemble (Mvt. II Cadenza, Fuga) –
Yiu-Kwong Chung
Dances of Earth and Fire – Peter Klatzow
Marimba d’Amore – Keiko Abe
Yun-Ju Chou, marimba

(2nd place winner)
Merlin – Andrew Thomas
HATO-OTO¬†¬†¬† –¬† Hirotake Kitakata (USA Premiere)
Hiromi Kamiya, marimba

(1st place winner)
Cameleon – Eric Sammut
Variations on Japanese Children’s Songs – Keiko Abe
Dr. Graddus ad Parnassum (from Children’s Corner Suite) – Claude Debussy
Yi-Chia Chen, marimba