“To the shadow, light” (world premiere)

One of my goals as a marimbist is to foster the creation of new marimba pieces whenever I can. There have been many great projects on Kickstarter that I have been a part of over the years but I have always wanted to do a commission by myself. For the past two years I have been working on just that. This is the story of the marimba solo “To the shadow, light” by Guillo Espel.

Back in 2009 I attended the Zeltsman Marimba Festival. During one of the listening sessions William Moersch played a marimba solo called “Zamba para escuchar tu silencio” by Guillo Espel. I thought that this was one of the most beautiful marimba solos I have ever heard (similar to the first time I heard “Land” by Takatsugu Muramatsu).

I heard this solo performed live by Angel Frette at the Marimba 2010 International Festival and Conference and knew that I had to find out who the composer was. A quick search led me to Guillo and we begin emailing about the solo, the quartet arrangement, and about his other pieces.

I didn’t have the marimba chops to perform “Zamba” myself, so I asked Jenny Klukken if she wanted to perform it. She has played it a number of times and a wonderful recording was posted on my blog in 2012.

I knew I had found a great composer, and so I asked Guillo if he would be willing to commission a new piece. Even though he is a guitarist, I knew from his previous marimba solo that he knew how to write for the marimba and make it sound beautiful. He agreed, and to my surprise, finished the piece in a couple of months. Both Jenny and I started working on “To the shadow, light” and continued to email with Guillo with updates and questions.

It was late in 2013 when I saw the announcement for ZMF 2014 and I knew that this would be the perfect place for the world premiere. Sometimes you just need a hard deadline to really focus and complete a task.

At the Zeltsman Marimba Festival, I was given invaluable advice by Nanae Mimura, Jack Van Geem, Laurent Warnier, and Nancy Zeltsman. I performed the world premiere at the 5-hour marathon concert on Saturday July 12, 2014 at Memorial Chapel on the Lawrence University campus. The program notes are located here, and the recording is below:


I wanted to personally thank all of the ZMF faculty from 2009 and 2014 and especially William Moersch for introducing me to Guillo’s music. Another big thank you to Guillo for taking the time to write a new marimba piece. If anyone is interested in performing “To the shadow, light” please contact me via email –  marimba [at] jeffsass [dot] com.


Zeltsman Marimba Festival 2014

I am thrilled to be returning to ZMF (Zeltsman Marimba Festival) starting this weekend in Appleton, Wisconsin. There are a couple of things to watch for the next couple weeks through this blog, my Twitter feed @jeffsass, and on my Facebook page. It is going to be a steady stream of marimba information and news so sit back and enjoy the ride.

ZMF is a two-week long event where participants from all over the world come together to immerse themselves in all things marimba. The festival includes a number of concerts (some of which are free), and Nancy and the organizers have put together a list of all of the concerts on their Facebook page:


All of the concerts will be fantastic, but I am personally looking forward to the final 5 hour marathon concert where all of the attendees participate in. This is a great opportunity to see what the marimbists “out there” are playing. Whether it is a new piece or a marimba classic, there is always a fresh take and a “hidden gem” to look for. This year, I hope to add to the fun a world premiere of a solo entitled “To the shadow, light” by Guillo Espel. For anyone that is in Appleton, Wisconsin feel free to stop by and enjoy all of the wonderful concerts. Check back during the next two weeks to see what is happening at #ZMF2014.

“Firefish – Music of Blake Tyson” review

Blake Tyson has released his new CD “Firefish” on iTunes. He has also provided the digital book for the CD free for everyone to download so you can read about each of the compositions and the story behind them.

I have been a fan of Blake Tyson ever since I heard the piece “A cricket sang and set the sun”. I contacted him directly to purchase the sheet music and was thrilled to received a personalized note with the music. When I heard about his new project on Kickstarter I knew that I wanted to help fund that project.

Firefish has 10 tracks which are a mix of solo marimba and mallet ensemble music. The tracks are:

1. Cloud Forest

2. Not far from here

3. Moonrise – I. The Moon Holds My Heart

4. Moonrise – II. The First Time I Saw the Moon

5. Firefish

6. Inside the Shining Stone

7. A Ceiling Full Of Starts

8. A Cricket Sang and Set the Sun

9. Vagabond of Light

10. Not Far From Here for Solo Marimba

I was already a huge fan of “A cricket sang and set the sun” and if you want to see Blake performing that piece you can take a listen here:

A Cricket sang and set the sun

My favorite piece new composition on this CD is “Not far from here”. Folks who read this blog know that I am partial to “pretty” marimba music and this composition fits that bill perfectly. There is a time and a place for Velocities, and Merlin and other pieces with a lot of notes in them (and I love them too), but sometimes we all should stop and listen to some relaxing music that is audience accessible, sounds great and makes you slowly exhale when listening to it. This piece does that for me. Both the percussion ensemble and marimba solo of this piece are on the CD and ironically I do prefer the ensemble version. I didn’t see the ensemble version on Steve Weiss but the solo version is available there today.

Another thing to note about this CD, is that many of the parts are performed on the new MJB Marimba from Malletech. Getting the lowest octave right on a 5-octave marimba is something that I believe will take another couple of decades to perfect considering how many decades marimba manufacturers have been working on the the problem so far. Having said that, the low end of this marimba is really something to listen too. It pushes the whole marimba sound forward similar to what the Basso Bravo resonators did for Marimba One. This sound can really rattle cheap internal laptop speakers, so be sure to listen to this CD on a nice set of speakers. I also believe this has a lot to do with the recording and mixing skills of John Parks IV. This CD really sounds amazing not only from the low end of the marimba but the bells and crotales on the high end. For those not familiar with John Parks, he was features on PATV episode 74. You can debate with him if Haydn was a “complete hack” or not. 🙂

For more information about Blake Tyson, please visit his website, Facebook page, YouTube channel, or contact him via Twitter.

Joe Millea’s Solo Commission Project

Joe Millea is organizing a marimba solo commission project in order to encourage more marimba solos to be written. The requirements are that it be a piece for 5-octave marimbas and be 5-12 minutes in length. Compositions can be submitted electronically (PDF, Finale, Sibelius) directly to Joe at jmillea@asu.edu.

The winning composition will be premiered in London in 2014 at the Royal College of Music.

Joe is an huge advocate of new marimba music and most recently has been one of the members of the “Long Distance” commission written by Steven Snowden. Joe’s YouTube channel has some of his performances and they are a real treat to listen to. Joe has a performance of “Fernando’s Waltz” by Paul Smadbeck which was premiered at the Marimba 2010 International Festival and Conference as well as Nanae Mimura’s arrangement of Daniel Levitan’s Marimba Quartet.

For more information feel free to contact visit Joe’s website or at the marimba commission project site for more information.


Makoto Nakura’s Wood and Forest Album Kickstarter project

Makoto Nakura’s Wood and Forest Album Kickstarter project is open for additional funding and donations. This project has 2 weeks left to go and it is already 2/3 of the way to the goal. The composers are Jacob Bancks, Kenji Bunch, Robert Paterson, Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, and Michael Torke. Makoto’s playing is really quite beautiful and I look forward to hearing this CD with these new commissions.

New Works for Percussion / Part Two – Kickstarter project by Andy Eldridge

There is a new Kickstarter project that is funding new marimba solos, and duets that could use your help in reaching its goal.

New Works for Percussion / Part Two led by Andy Eldridge is funding 5 specific works from different composers and the composers will be revealed one per week for the next few weeks. So far Andy has announced Martin Blessinger and Den Welcher.

Please head over to the Kickstarter page and make a donation so this project can reach its goal. Every dollar counts!

Marimba + electronics “Woods Walker” commission seeking donors

Composer Lynn Job has written a new marimba + electronics piece entitled “Woods Walker”. This piece will be performed at PASIC 2010 this year in Indianapolis, Indiana by Dr. Aaron Ragsdale. I just learned that this commission is seeking 5 more marimbists to donate to the commission. I have recently joined this commission myself after reviewing the sample pages from the score.

The great thing about this particular commission is the number of things that you get for participating:

Your name on the score, a copy of the full score, a separate marimba part, a performance CD (stage ready), a Demo CD, 2 year exclusive ability to perform the work, free publicity for life and a number of other gifts.

For more information please visit the commission web site for more details. Time is running out on joining (they want to close the commission this summer) so move fast! This could be a great graduation present (or in my case a Father’s Day present) for your favorite marimbist!