Monday, February 15, 2016

Marimba Gets (More) Complex: Jane Boxall and "Zero to Eight"

Elton John features it. Jack White can play it. Apple deemed it worthy of a ringtone (which was bizarrely remixed with Adele's Hello here).

The marimba is a percussive keyboard instrument composed of rosewood bars connected with string. Origins of the marimba are unknown, as versions of the instrument have been connected to South and Central America as well as Africa. Musicians play the instrument with mallets - typically one or two in each hand.

This xylophone cousin is a favorite for soothing music, festivals, and symphony hall concerts. A four mallet combination can held either in Burton grip (with two mallets forming an 'x' across the palm) or in Stevens grip (with the mallet ends connecting in a 'v' at the center of the palm). Marimbist Jane Boxall teaches students to combine these two techniques to use a total four pairs of mallets at one time.

Burton grip (image from Adam Rönnegård, Double Mallet Grips)
Stevens grip (image from Adam Rönnegård, Double Mallet Grips)

In her 2012 album Zero to Eight Mallets, Boxall performs a series of pieces that focus on specific mallet techniques. The first piece on the album, Sambai (Boxall), requires no mallets and instead requires Boxall to strike the bars with flat, open palms. Each consecutive piece requires the addition of another mallet, culminating with eight mallets for Marimba Moods II (Boxall).

Zero to Eight Mallets has received significant critical acclaim. As Percussive Notes magazine writes in the May 2013 issue, the album "is an eclectic mix of 100 years' worth of music masterfully performed on marimba...Throughout the recording, Boxall's performance is consistently excellent." Janine Scherline, director of Plattsburgh Arts in New York calls Boxall's live performance of Zero to Eight Mallets "unique and highly accessible repertoire, unparalleled artistry and the perfect dash of visual spectacle." Boxall is not without fans.

Boxall performs with eight mallets

Eight-mallet marimba breaks from percussion tradition. In a musical world that puts significant emphasis on correct finger placement and wrist bend, Boxall innovates and creates an alternative grip that allows her to easily play more notes at one time. The conceptual change from an established method of performance to a new, innovative method is affecting the percussion performance landscape constantly. Like Frank Gehry, who insisted that his work be categorized as architecture instead of sculpture, Boxall is pushing the limits of how classical marimba is performed. Ten years ago, marimba was rarely (if ever) played with more than four mallets. Today, a quick Google search will reveal a plethora of tutorials teaching percussionists to add an extra mallet (or three) to their grip. Boxall's repertoire has inspired composers and performers to embrace a shift in thinking from pre-established categories.

Watch an except of Zero to Eight Mallets below:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.