Marimba group brings new music to Missouri

The members of Marimba Sol de Chiapas will perform at 7 p.m. Monday in the Webster Hall auditorium, and will hold a clinic at 3 p.m. that afternoon. Admission is free and all are invited to attend.

Special toThe Chart

The members of Marimba Sol de Chiapas will perform at 7 p.m. Monday in the Webster Hall auditorium, and will hold a clinic at 3 p.m. that afternoon. Admission is free and all are invited to attend.

Kelly Davis

Marimba Sol de Chiapas, a professional folkloric ensemble based in Kansas City, will perform at Missouri Southern at 7 p.m. on Monday in the Webster Hall auditorium as part of the Mexico-semester activities.

Marimba Sol de Chiapas, which translates as The Chiapan Sun Marimba Group, consists of John Currey, director, James Schank, James Clanton and Brian Fronzaglia. The group began as Marimba Yajalon in 1988 under the direction of Laurence Kaptain at Steven F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Currey is the last original member.

The group was formed after Kaptain, a percussion professor at Austin State, went to Chiapas, Mexico on a Fulbright Scholarship to study marimba for his dissertation at the University of Michigan. According to Currey, Kaptain wanted to recreate the sound, and formed a student ensemble to do so during Currey’s first year at Austin State. The group has since evolved, with Schank being a member since 1993, Clanton since 2002 and Fronzaglia will celebrate his one-year anniversary with the group in October.

Marimba Sol de Chiapas has been based in Kansas City permanently since 1991, and is the first Mexican marimba group to do so. They are one of the only groups of their kind in the United States.

“You don’t find groups like ourselves based outside of Mexico,” Currey said.

Despite being based in Kansas City, the group has played all over the world. He said they have toured Mexico “at least seven times,” and have been guests of the Mexican government. The group has played all over the United States, including Hawaii, and recorded a concerto with the Prague orchestra written specifically for them.

Currey said before going to Austin State, he hadn’t heard of the Mexican marimba, which the group plays, only the North American marimba, referred to commonly as “concert marimba.”

The instruments differ greatly in composition, size and sound. Currey said a concert marimba may have four to five octaves, while the Mexican marimba has six, and a concert marimba is designed for one to two players, while the Mexican marimba the group plays on is large enough for the four of them.

He said the music is unique and because of the people, the culture, the approach and the humility surrounding the music, he describes it as magical.

“There’s something there that reaches out and grabs the listener,” he said.

Currey said it is an honor and a privilege to play the music and travel around doing so.

“It grabs your heart and soul and really won’t let go,” he said. “It’s a unique experience in the music world. It goes beyond being a job or a class, and touches you on many levels.”

At 3 p.m. on Monday, before the evening performance, the group will be holding a clinic in Webster Hall auditorium. Currey said it will include a slide presentation and attendees will be able to hear some prerecorded music.

“It will offer a little more insight into what we do than the evening performance might,” he said.

He also said it will be less formal, and will include a question and answer session.

“I think Missouri Southern has an impressive array of offerings for the Mexico semester,” Currey said. “And, we’re very appreciative of the opportunity to come play there. You should encourage your readers to take advantage of the variety of offerings [Southern] lined up for this semester.”

The clinic and concert both have free admission, and all are encouraged to attend.