“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.

Percussion Axiom TV focuses on John Serry’s “Night Rhapsody”

Percussion Axiom TV, for the next few episodes, is focusing on John Serry’s “Night Rhapsody”. This is one of the most challenging and maybe the most misunderstood marimba pieces in the standard repertoire.

I am a big fan of this series and participated in past episodes where I played Gordon Stout’s Etude #3. For this series I will be following along “from afar” as the technical chops required to play this are beyond what I can handle and I just cannot bring myself to purchase it. I saw Leigh Howard Stevens perform this piece in Wisconsin a number of years ago and I was simply in awe at the discipline it takes to perform it.

Join the discussion over at DrumChattr by starting with the first episode at:


Katamiya discussions – Part 5 – PATV announces contest winners

Hi everyone! The Percussion Axiom TV episode #45 is out and you can watch it at Dr. Burritt’s web site or right here:

First off congratulations to Matt for winning the contest! His overall contribution both from a playing aspect as well as an interactive aspect made him the clear winner! Congratulations also to the second place finishers of Taylor, Steve, Torrin, Jeff and myself. I am definitely inspired now to finish working on Katamiya and ensure a good final video is posted.

I hope we continue exercises like this in the future. This is one great reason for me to practice and share my experiences with everyone. Check out all of the videos at http://video.steveweissmusic.net

Thanks to Steve Weiss Music, Dr. Burritt and all of the participants!

Katamiya Discussions – Part 4

Hi everyone! The Percussion Axiom TV Interactive Contest hosted by Steve Weiss Music and Thomas Burritt is coming to a close tomorrow so I wanted to post one more video. I wasn’t able to get more playing done so the video below are some thoughts around what was great about the contest and to answer some of the questions from the other participants.

I do promise to finish Katamiya and post a complete video with my performance in the future. Thanks again to Steve Weiss Music and Thomas Burritt for venturing into a new area of marimba video blogging!

Katamiya Discussions Part 3

This is my final day to work on Katamiya for at least 2 weeks. I have packed my marimba and will load up the mini-van tomorrow to head to Appleton, Wisconsin for the Zeltsman Marimba Festival.

This week I have 2 new videos. The first I discuss a bit about the other videos and interaction happening with Katamiya so far. I cannot believe that there are 14 videos uploaded as part of this interactive contest. Congratulations everyone and keep it up!

The second video is a clip of my playing measures 2-9. These measures are still pretty rough but I am trying to establish the groove first and clean up the accents next. I also had a personal goal that I was going to put up a video before I left for the festival – no matter where I was in the piece. I have been quite busy working on my 4 other pieces this week.

Stay tuned to this blog for the next two weeks as I will be keeping the blog up to date with information on the marimba festival and the 24 new marimba pieces that will be premiered at this event. I simply cannot wait!

Katamiya Discussions – Part 2

This last week has been a whirlwind for me as I finished up all of my work projects (I am a Quality Leader at Adobe Systems Incorporated) before my sabbatical. Some high tech companies have decided to eliminate their sabbatical programs in recent years and I am thrilled that Adobe Systems continues to have this program as a benefit for their employees. It is also amazing that is has been over 11 years since I started working there.

Back to the marimba…

I have placed a new video online discussing Katamiya as part of the PATV online learning contest. This video discusses the recordings that I know of that contain this piece as well as my thoughts on the pronunciation. After months of posting video as part of the last piece (Gordon Stout’s Etude #3), I decided it was time to actually talk in one of my videos.

A big thanks to Matt, Torrin, and Steve for posting videos about their first week’s experience with the piece! The next video later this week will include more playing. I am trying to squeeze in measures from this piece as I polish my other pieces for the Zeltsman Marimba Festival next week so we will see how far I get!

Learning Katamiya with PATV Part 1

Thomas Burritt via Percussion Axiom TV has announced that the next interactive piece that we are learning on the marimba is “Katamiya”. He has teamed up with Steve Weiss Music and is offering prizes this time for the people who are the most interactive. His introduction to the contest is below:

Today, he started the instruction with PATV episode #39 shown next:

I am so thrilled to be learning this piece. I probably will always be labeled as the marimbist who loves “pretty” marimba music and I am ok with that label. This piece fits squarely into that category!

I have posted a video of measure 1 (played with block chords as instructed instead of rolls) as well as the right hand of measure 2-9. The left hand is going to need some more work as that is a groove rhythm requiring me to write in the sticking. I decided to break down the piece into the right hand and left hand components. I am not sure if that approach will work as it will require the hands to come back in sync later.

All comments welcome! Enjoy “Katamiya” Take 1:

3 more videos of Stout Etude 3

As I continue to participate in the Percussion Axiom TV online learning exercise, I have recorded 3 more versions of Gordon Stout’s Etude #3 from Book 1. My note accuracy has increased and these versions now have somewhat of a groove. I feel pretty comfortable now with playing these in front of people. Wait a minute, my earlier versions were on YouTube for the entire world to see, I better be comfortable!

This online learning exercise started in February so it has been a 5 month journey. This is the hardest piece I have ever learned on the marimba so personally this is a pretty thrilling moment. My next post will talk about the new learning exercise that was just announced (complete with prizes for participants). I am ready to continue the journey and cannot wait to see who else joins in!

The 3 videos below are the entire etude played at varying tempos. Take 11 at the top is the best recording I have done to date. Enjoy!

Take 11:

Take 10:

Take 9 (slower tempo):

Playing Stout Etude 3 All of the Way Through

As I looked at my practice log for April, I noticed I had taken a 21 day break from practicing the marimba. First of all I need to realize that there were some good reasons (World’s Largest Trivia Contest being the largest) but that really is no excuse.

I have come back to practicing and am now able to play the entire Gordon Stout Etude #3 (from Book 1). This was a learning exercise as part of Dr. Thomas Burritt’s Percussion Axiom TV that many people have been working on completing for the last couple months. A couple notes before we get to my performance.

1) It is true that I can play the entire Etude all of the way though, but it is not performance ready yet. There are a number of wrong notes still.

2) This is the first performance where I was able to really think about the “groove” of the piece. Rhythm, dynamics, and note accuracy keep your mind busy in this piece but a major part of making music is connecting with the piece and telling the story to the audience. The “groove” is important. During m28-29 I finally started feeling this.

3) M20-25 had some problems which I usually don’t get wrong. I forgot where I was in the music for a few seconds.

4) M38-42 are “close” the groove is correct but the notes were not fully accurate.

5) I repeated m43-48 like the repeat from measure 1-6 . That is not correct therer is no repeat.

5) I am thrilled to finally play it all of the way through! As I have stated before, this would have never been I piece I would have played on my own. After taking the time to really work with it I do have to admit that I will keep this in my repretoire.

My next ask to the Percussion Axiom TV folks is to see their performances! I cannot be the only one and I would love to see other videos of progress on this piece. At minimum, head over to the Discussion part of Thomas Burritt’s site and state whether or not you completed it.

In future posts look for more videos of this piece as I get it performance ready and quite a bit faster.

Enjoy take 8 of Gordon Stout’s Etude #3!

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. 🙂 Here is Take 7 of the etude.