Re:guatemalan marimba

Dear JSBritton,

Greetings, again!!! Here??s more:

Marimba Sol de Chiapas?? instruments come from Chiapas, Mexico, and though Sol plays some traditional Guatemalan repertoire, the majority of our music comes from Chiapas and other parts of Mexico. The neat thing is that the cultures, marimbas, and marimba traditions of Chiapas and Guatemala are much more similar than different, so that hopefully, I can offer a few insights that may be helpful to you:

1. Known as ??Hormigo?? in Guatemala, and ??Hormiguillo?? in Chiapas, this hardwood comes from a slender, tall tree indigenous to the region. The wood is not quiet the weight and density of the Honduras Rosewood (Which, incidentally, almost exclusively comes from Guatemala, despite the name.) we are used to, and so has a little different ??feel?? to it when struck, as well as a slightly brighter, and slightly ??less focused?? characteristic sound. These differences are not necessarily any ??better?? or ??worse??, just that–different.

2. Although the general shape of, and material used for, the Mesoamerican marimba resonators do have an affect on the sound produced, it is really the membrane (??Tela?? in Chiapas, that is most often thinly-shaved and dried pig intestine) stretched across a small opening at the bottom of each resonator that gives Guatemalan and Chiapan marimbas their characteristic buzzing (??El Charleo??) quality. The effect is much like the buzz heard when one sings into a kazoo.

3. Regarding ??innovations?? in construction (And, remembering that makers like Deagan and Musser got many of their ideas and inspirations from the Chiapans and Guatemalans for building ??our?? marimbas–instruments often referred to as ??concert marimbas?? in Latin America.), though some marimba makers experiment with some of ??our?? innovations (Chiapan Marimba maker Carlos Nandayapa, for example, builds a ??hybrid?? marimba that uses wood resonators without the tela, and that incorporates a unique and very practical frame heavily influenced by concert marimba frames, but that splits into four , independent sections–or quarters–for easy mobility and transport without having to break the instrument down!), many feel that ??they?? were building marimba long before ??we?? were, and that their products (Beautiful works of art in both sound and appearance!) are in no need of ??innovation.?? This view is not an attitude of overt arrogance, per say, but more a very well-deserved and hard-earned sense of pride and tradition in their highly-evolved art and craftsmanship that has been handed down primarily within families for generations.

4. One secret (I say ??secret?? because these items are most often kept hidden-away out of easy sight, in a back cabinet or work area.) piece of ??modern technology?? that has made its way into more and more of these artisans?? workshops is some type of electronic tuner, although a great number still do their tuning of the bars the time-honored traditional method??purely by ear! And, speaking of tuning: One innovation from ??our?? concert marimbas that has clearly made it??s way into the construction of ??their?? Mesoamerican marimbas is the practice by more and more Guatemalan and Chiapan makers of tuning the partials.

5. Regarding technique and playing, it goes without saying that as marimba players, pedagogues, and students from all corners of the globe come together in numerous locations around the world with increasing frequency at various festivals, symposiums, contests, educational institutions–not to mention the internet??and elsewhere, more of ??our?? pedagogy, performance practice, and repertoire all work their way into ??their?? academic and applied settings (and vice-versa). Some of the best evidence of this includes increasing sales of concert marimbas in Latin America due, in part, to the dramatic growth of the marimba as a soloist??s instrument in Mexico and Guatemala. Also, more and more percussion degree programs in Mexican and Guatemalan Universities include marimba technique and repertoire requirements familiar to most any percussion major in the USA. And, Chiapas, Mexico now holds a nation-wide solo marimba performance competition during their quasi-annual International Marimba Festival. The advent of solo marimba performance practice in Mesoamerica may seem like no big deal to ??us?? until we remember that for many centuries up until fairly recently, the ONLY real concept and tradition of playing the marimba in Chiapas and Guatemala was in groups!!!

Well, I believe that covers it for now. Here??s a few more websites that may be useful to you in this regard:


Best of luck on your continued exploration of the magical marimba traditions of Chiapas and Guatemala!!! Again, I hope this info. is helpful, and that you get a chance to listen to some of the recordings from the websites mentioned in my last note. If I may be of any further assistance, please don??t hesitate to contact me.

With Warmest Marimba Regards,

-John Currey, Director
Marimba Sol de Chiapas??It??s What All The Buzz Is About!!!;

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