Hearing a duck call used as an instrument is a rare experience.
Hearing a duck call in an outdoor marimba concert is even rarer. For the Marion Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO,) however, this was just one more innovation that kept their fall season exciting despite restrictions caused by COVID-19.
On Sun Oct. 11, an ensemble of six marimba players performed at the gazebo at Upland Depot park at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. These concerts were free to attend, and were the last of the smaller ensembles performing at local parks for the community.
“I am so glad that we were able to have this opportunity to be able to play here. This is a lovely place,” said Joy Frecker, MPO’s executive director. “To be able to play under the gazebo is wonderful. It's so nice for the musicians that there is a bit of covering and protection for instruments.”
The previous string ensembles that performed moved dates and locations. However, due to the size of the marimbas, the decision was made to host two on the same day. Frecker was grateful to return to the location though.
During the performance, the modern history of the marimba was followed. The ensemble played a wide variety of pieces, including Beatles songs, patriotic tunes, different traditional dances and classic film scores. Throughout the performance, they followed the history of the marimba, narrated by ensemble member Dave Robbin.
“The xylophone was a perfect instrument for recording,” he said. “You could put it in any place in the room, and it would sound good.”
This made it more appealing than something like drums, which have to be carried away from the recorder to get a decrescendo. Because of this, xylophones and marimbas became very popular in early Hollywood.
In this time, Eral Hatch taught many L.A. processions. On Wednesdays, many of the players would come into the studio to experiment with classical music in order to improve their sight-reading. Through many of these sessions, Hatch transcribed and arranged much of the marimba music played today.
It was during one of these arrangements that Robbins pulled out a duck call for a solo, surprising everyone.
“I think that is something you’d hear a little bit of that sound all the time in old cartoons,” said Frecker. “If you think about some of those old recordings they like to do some of those more interesting types of percussion instruments.”
The film themes continued with the education throughout the show. In a rendition of ‘Star Wars’’ ‘Cantina Band,’ and an arrangement of The Beatles’ ‘Elinor Rigby,’ vibraphones were highlighted. This sort of marimba was invented in 1918 to create a deep vibrato in the instrument. This first was achieved by raising the resonator pipes up and down on the instrument, but more recently, fans have been placed inside the pipes for a fuller effect. This technique is often used for jazz.
It was with the ‘Cantina Band’ especially that small children danced around, and everyone of all ages recognized a familiar tune. This is the community and engagement in music that Frecker seeks. She first became fixated on the marimba as a young child through a live performance, and hopes the same for others.
“Always, always support live music,” Frecker said. “I think it's something that was almost taken for granted before, you know, you can always YouTube something, but there's nothing that can quite replace just that live encounter and live music.”
As quickly as it came, it is going into hibernation. They don’t want to risk it with the colder weather, but are grateful for the opportunities they have had so far. Frecker was already wary of the weather unpredictability, and is concerned about continuing further into the fall.
They are hoping that by then, they can have more musicians involved in the show. However, due to the good audience turnout they’ve had, they hope to continue the smaller ensemble shows around the community. Ultimately, everyone involved just wanted to express their gratitude.
“Thank you all for being here,” said ensemble member Cheryl Guise. “I know we've got eight people maybe, but we have not played for seven months. So to be able to get out and do this together, we are just so grateful to be here.”