After a long day at WGTD (730-1030) and Carthage (1030- 630) I wanted nothing more than to head home and plant my tired butt in our new recliner. . . but alas, I agreed to play for one of my voice students who was singing for the Lambda Kappa recital tonight at 7:30. LK is our music service organization and every spring the new pledges present a recital which they plan and prepare – and I like to support them if I possibly can and usually play for at least a couple of the performers. But this year’s program came during a week which is already packed to the gills, so I was there tonight out of a sense of Duty rather than Delight.
That is, until a young musician named Michael Becker walked out on to the stage to play a dazzling marimba solo which left me and everyone else in the audience slack-jawed with admiration. The piece was titled “Dream of the Cherry Blossoms” (if memory serves me correctly) and to play it Michael had to manipulate two mallets in each hand – a feat of coordination which I could not manage if my life depended on it. And not only did he do it, he made it seem easy, playing with wonderful, ingratiating musicality. I enjoyed everyone and everything on this program, but it was this marimba solo that really made me happy to be there.
And I think one reason is that whenever I see someone doing great things at the xylophone, it transports me back to my childhood in Decorah and to some of my favorite musical memories from those days. I vividly remember many times when my mom and dad took me to Luther to see concerts by either the Nordic Choir or the Concert Band, and since my mom couldn’t bear to sit anyplace except in the back row (some sort of claustrophobia) they would usually sit back there but I would find a seat way up front (preferably in the very front row) where the action was. And although I do have some powerful memories of those choir concerts, I was even more impressed by the concert band- especially on those occasions when I was able to sit close to the percussion section and watch them scurry from instrument to instrument. And when a percussionist would tear into a brilliant xylophone solo, I felt like I was witnessing something as impressive as Superman out-racing a locomotive. And I remember thinking that there would be nothing more incredible than to be able to do that.
Of course, I never did find time in my life for band practice – piano and organ and singing gave me all the excitement I needed and could handle . . . but I still feel like there is this percussionist deep inside of me, longing to grab hold of those mallets and give it a try. Unfortunately, I have the coordination of a recovering stroke victim, and I have wisely avoided what I’m sure would be an exercise in futility and frustration, were I to make the attempt. (Were I to play percussion, I imagination causing several concussions in the flute section because the mallets would probably fly out of my hands more often than not.) It’s one more reminder that for all the gifts I’ve been given for music – for singing, playing piano, composing and arranging, etc. I am a miserable failure in other facets of music. When I took class violin one J-term at Luther, I was the worst in the whole class – completely unable to coordinate my bow arm with my fingers on the strings. And when a classmate named Jeff Doebler tried to teach me french horn for his applied brass methods class final project, my most spirited blowing yielded a sound about as musical as the sound our sump pump makes on an especially rainy day. Whatever!
So when it comes to percussion, I guess I will always be an admirer from afar rather than a participant . . . especially as long as there are superb percussionists like Michael Becker around to bedazzle the rest of us.
pictured above: MB in mid-performance. The mallets were really moving quickly, so in many of the pictures I took, the four mallets are just a pink blur!