In the pantheon of kids’ favorite things about elementary school, recess has solid-gold status.
So it’s hard to imagine what would compel 20 or so students at Maplewood Elementary School in Puyallup to willingly forgo their precious free period.
Tator tot Thursday? Petting the Reptile Man’s boa constrictor?
If you guessed marimba band, go to the head of the conga line.
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For the past five years, music teacher Maggie Smith has formed an ensemble of fifth- and sixth-grade students who play a variety of musical instruments to create a world beat groove.
Many are marimbas, a deep-toned cousin of the xylophone that originated in Africa but was popularized and modified in Central America. It consists of graduated wooden bars, often with resonators beneath to reinforce the sound as it’s struck with mallets.
Smith said the music traveled to the Northwest in the 1970s thanks to performers from Zimbabwe who were invited to participate in the University of Washington’s Artist in Residency program. Through the years the joyous sound has been adopted in schools and elsewhere, but she believes her student ensemble is the only one of its kind in the Puyallup School District.
“It’s just kind of exploded into this thing that’s become really popular in our building. … Families associate the music with our school,” Smith said.
Her band, Mustang Marimba Madness, named in part for the school mascot, keeps landing quality gigs. Besides school assemblies, they’ve performed at the Experience Music Project in Seattle, the Festival of Trees and several Puyallup Spring Fairs. They’ve been invited to perform in February at the keynote session of the Washington Music Educators Association State Conference in Yakima.
“The kids love the instruments,” Smith said. “They’re so motivating.”
Although other schools play marimbas, Puyallup School District arts coordinator Bruce Leonardy said, “Maggie has taken it to another level. It’s unusual to see so many kids together doing this, showing the initiative to come in on their own time. She’s a rising star.”
Now if Smith only had a few more marimbas. Most of her students play xylophones, which have unattached wooden bars that “can fly off during a performance,” Smith said. They jerry-rig them with rubber bands so they can stay put like a traditional marimba whose bars are held in place with string.
Smith said she is hoping to acquire more culturally authentic marimbas via a fundraising concert at the Puyallup High School auditorium at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. The entire Maplewood student body, all of whom are familiar with marimba music, have been invited to play a piece. Potentially that’s 400 performers. Smith said she is expecting 200 to 300. In addition, Mustang Madness will perform, as well as a special alumni ensemble. Suggested donation is $5.
It’s another big deal venue for her little band of musicians. Perhaps one that’s worth missing a few more recesses for?
Ben Giertz, 11, nodded yes. “Marimba band makes my heart soar. … I get lost in the music. It really calms me when I’m super nervous.”
Bandmate Kendal Clifton, 12, agreed. “It’s more fun to do something we’re passionate about with all our friends. … I can’t picture my life without it.”
Drew Perine: @we3perines