na foine ting

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

We shipped a four octave wooden marimba to Ghana.

A four octave wooden marimba is a small instrument compared to - say - a grand piano. And no doubt there were a good many expatriates living in west Africa in the seventies who managed to keep grand pianos in their homes, miraculously free of moisture-cracked soundboards and termites.

But for being nothing like a grand piano other than its being of the percussion instrument family, a four octave marimba takes up a chunk of space. One box for the keyboard, two boxes for the pipes that hang under it (a set of pipes each for sharps and naturals). Then there's a box for the metal frame it stands on, and then all the other assorted bits and pieces: music stand, yarn wrapped soft mallets, unwrapped hard mallets, and so on.

When I was five I was already playing four sticks. Two sticks in each hand, so that I could play chords, or a chord and a melody, even. Apparently that made me a sort of marimba prodigy, which is a dubious distinction for a five year old, even in the seventies in Santa Cruz, never mind Ghana.

By the time I was nine and we were living in Africa, I had learned to play almost any Broadway show tune with four sticks on my marimba, and if I hadn't learned it, I could usually fake it.

At Lincoln Community School in Accra, I played Monti's "Czardas" and "Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof for a school assembly.

Other school assemblies while I was there included visits from Carol Kendall, and Buzz Aldrin. Tough acts to follow, even with a big four octave marimba played with four sticks and no accompaniment.

The worst thing about a marimba isn't that it takes four unwrapped rubber mallets to get a recognizable song out of it.

The worst thing about a marimba is that no one other than percussionists has ever heard of it.

So, right along with Buzz Aldrin and Carol Kendall I was to become something of a legend at Lincoln Community School.

I was "that girl who played the marumba." Or "mazoomba." Or "maracas."

Take your pick.


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