The NSW Doctors’ Orchestra (see Music, Medics and Marimbas) is soon performing in Sydney with Sandy Sin on the marimbas. SoundsLikeSydney took the opportunity to refresh its memory on this unusual percussion instrument….
The marimba is fundamentally a xylophone, taken to South American continent by African slaves where it acquired its name and became especially popular in Mexico and Guatemala.
It’s a series of wooden bars of graduated length with metal resonators that hang underneath. Rosewood and aluminium are the usual choices of wood and metal for the components of the marimba. The keys are arranged like a conventional keyboard with the sharps and flats elevated and above the “white” keys. The instrument is mounted on a frame which stands on legs, or which the player wears at the waist. The waist worn version is used in marching bands and street festivals. The keys are struck with a mallet and the marimba has a span of 4 octaves, but can be larger.
The marimba didn’t enter Western classical music performance until the 20th century. Some works that feature the marimba: Steve Reich Six Marimbas (1986), and Nagoya Marimbas(1994), Darius Milhaud Concerto for Marimba, Vibraphone and Orchestra, Op. 278 (1947)