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Marimba Practice (&c.)...


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Happy 2012. It’s supposed to be a short year, ending December 21; we’ll see if the pundits are right. I’d like to put out an end-of-the-world album, but should do so early (just in case, y’know). I’m sure some of the writers I know will be coming up with good end-of-the-world songs, and I expect I’ll have a few more of my own as the year progresses. (I hope this is one of those years that progresses. I’m tired of going backwards.)

Practice with the whole marimba band this afternoon; ultimately, we’ll have two “soprano” marimbas (marimbae?), two “tenors,” orchestra bells (that thingie looks like a very classy xylophone), and percussion; bandleader Larry has a plank of some exotic wood he’d like to turn into a bass marimba, too. The music is starting to make sense. I probably know more music theory than most of the band—the result of having to learn the guitar “grid” because I couldn’t hear well enough to play by ear—and I think it’s going to help. To work on: making the hand movements on the marimba as automatic as they are on the guitar. (I want to get press-on letters to mark the marimba keys so I don’t have to keep puzzling it out.)

We’ve been practicing “On Top of Old Smokey,” which is a very simple 3-chord waltz; however, everything is easily transferable with minimal learning curve. Change it to 4/4 time, and the same progression becomes “Sweet Little Sixteen” or “Surfin’ USA” or “The Midnight Special,” depending on your age (and the marimba becomes a rock ‘n’ roll instrument); shift the progression 90 degrees (so it’s starting on the C instead of the F) and that 4/4 progression becomes the old bluegrass turkey “Wreck of the Old 97.” Change that back to a waltz, and it’s one of mine, “Twenty-Four Seven.” (Yes, I am hoping we will be able to do some of my songs down the road.)

The marimba is potentially a neat lead instrument, and I think I am knowledgeable enough now to be able to do a marimba track on a song. (I do not know if I am proficient enough. The only way to find out is to try it.) Recording one may not be possible—yet: my Famous Singing Mike will only pick up sound right next to the mike, and with a very narrow “cone,” and the marimba is a good five feet wide. My idea (not implemented yet) is to suspend a board under the marimba, where the resonator unit usually hangs, and affix one of those “tabletop” mikes that picks up vibration from a hard surface (in this case the board). At that point, the marimba would essentially be amplified—which would be good for concert purposes, too. Those tabletop mikes are a little spendy, and I’d like to wait to purchase one—until I have a job, maybe. I may still have a broken one in my Bag of Tricks and it may yet be reparable.

My other sideline project—becoming a square dance caller—is working, too; our class (of three—one of them a musician like myself) has been handed a lot of theory and it, too, is starting to make sense. I have a couple of “singing calls” to learn but I haven’t tried them yet; I want to master “patter” and theory first. Singing is not my forte, and I’ll be limited in what I can sing because of my narrow voice range—but one “artist” whose material I can sing is me (and again, I’d like to incorporate some of my stuff in my “routine”). I understand any song with a specified number of measures (and I don’t know what that number is but I can figure it out) will work for a singing call, and I just need to figure out which of mine would fit.

Two news stories—maybe three—to do for the paper this week, plus the column; caller class Wednesday night and music, I think, on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Fiddle part to record for “Spend the End of the World with Me” and the Hoffman Center Talent Show to practice for. 2012 is starting out to feel almost normal.

Joe

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