What's Magical about Playing the Marimba?

Oct 8, 2017


A leading percussionist loves the marimba, and WRTI’s Debra Lew Harder asks her why.

Listen this Sunday, October 15th  at 1 pm to the Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcast on WRTI 90.1 to hear She-e Wu play the marimba in Imaginary Day: Duo Concerto for Vibraphone and Marimba, music of Pat Metheny, arranged and orchestrated by Christopher Deviney.

Radio Script:

[Music: Paul Smadbeck, Virginia Tate, She-e Wu, marimba]

Debra Lew Harder: She-e Wu was six years old, and already playing the piano, when her mother decided she should also learn the French horn or flute. Wu's response?

She-e Wu: How about tympani?

DLH: When it came time for college, Wu left her native Taiwan to study percussion in the States. Before long, the marimba became her preferred instrument. Why?

SW: You can create harmony. The lowest note on the marimba is the same note as the lowest note on the cello. And the warmth from the rosewood—to ring and carry through—it’s really warm.

DLH: With two mallets in each hand, a player strikes the marimba’s wood bars, and metal pipes amplify its sound. Its range is wider than that of its cousins, the xylophone and vibraphone. It’s a favorite in Latin American traditional music, and when classical composer Darius Milhaud heard it in the 1940s, he quickly introduced it into his own works.

SW: Composers find it very interesting, and they write a lot for it, even in orchestral repertoire and chamber music.

[Music: Metheny/May, arranged by Christopher Deviney, Imaginary Day: Duo Concerto for Vibraphone and Marimba, She-e Wu, marimba, Christopher Deviney, vibraphone, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Bramwell Tovey, conductor]

DLH: For She-e Wu, one of the leading female percussionists in the world, the marimba's warm tone, range, and ability to create harmony allow her to express something intrinsic.

SW: It comes down to the heart. That’s how you communicate with one another.

DLH: The marimba, from ancient Africa, means "Mother of Song."