Music Paper Review: “Majestic from Caritas.”
The marimba is a musical instrument in the percussion family. Its keys or bars, made of wood, are struck with mallets to produce musical tones; its keys are arranged like those of a piano. The marimba instrument usually has a rose wood keyboard with brass pipe resonators which produces the rich marimba sounds. The resonators are metal tubes that hang below each bar. The length varies according to the frequency that the bar produces. Vibrations from the bars resonate as they pass through the tubes, which amplify the tone in a similar manner with that of the body of a guitar or cello. The mallet, which is the tapping stick’s, shaft is commonly made of wood, usually birch, but may also be rattan or fiberglass. The performer makes use of either two mallet sticks or four, depending on the composition played and the texture intended: whether monophonic or homophonic.
On Tuesday January 28th 2011, the McCormick’s Magic Marimba Festival kicked off. The festival was hosted by the University of South Florida’s School of Music. The festival itself was founded by Robert McCormick in 2002 to promote the study of performance practice, interpretation and literature of marimba; each year several marimba groups gather up to present lectures and concerts in the marimba genre. On the said day, a group of solo artists performed for the audience, one of which included Karen Toney, from the University of Central Florida who played Michael Burritt’s “Majestic from Caritas.”
The “Majestic from Caritas” is a four mallet marimba composition; the performer uses four mallets, protruding in-between the thumb and the index finger and also in-between the ring and the pinky finger, on both hands. The hands are moved in a stylish way to ensure that each mallet is able to strike each key at each particular time. The “Majestic from Caritas,” an original piece written for marimba, is a three movement piece which is harmonious throughout the composition. The first movement starts a little solemn, almost like a classical composition. It, however, progresses to rapid double taps and sequential tempo which create strong rhythmic beat; however, the tempo slow and its intensity is low. It seems as if the performer seeks to lure the audience into heavenly tranquility.
The second movement is a little bit more solemn than the first, however, with changes to the dynamics and tempo. The tempo, which is a bit faster than the first movement, sustains and is stretched out. The dynamics slowly rises to a crescendo, sustains, and starts all over again with urgency to the stroke and tempo of the music. The music produced during this movement, seems similar to that of an organ in a church service; the music felt sacred but earthly, almost as if the performer is a vessel for the communion between God and man.
The third movement is a little similar to the first movement, only a little bit different. It starts with natural beats, common beats heard everywhere. The motif is then repeated continuously but with a little slight difference in pace and volume; the strikes of the mallets are much more enforced. This movement ends with a dance like rhythm, a bit like African drum rhythm, which slowly ebbs out till there are no more audible sounds. In all, I would say the last movement is primitive, because it reminds me so much of African beats produced by a traditional xylophone. The music seems to trigger a visualization of an African scene in my head: the beginning of the movement is tantamount to the rhythm of which an African leader beckoning his people to meet with him- the beat and the progression are hurried. The middle create a visual representation of the people’s reaction to such call; they leaving their wares, informing each other of the call and progressing together to meet with their leader at the top of the mountain- there is a wavy flowery movement of the sounds. The end of the third movement reminds me of the dismissal of a meeting and the dances that are said to commerce afterwards- the taps are more insistent, loud and festive.
The composition is definitely modern; not only because of the instrument used, but also because of the music produced. One’s first exposure to the instrument and the sounds it produces is a little weird; the sounds are in dissonance because the performer seems to be looking for keys before playing them, unlike the natural and peaceful movement of a piano composition. With the marimba, it seems the performer is trying hard not to produce disjointed sound, instead of simply concentrating on producing music. The dissonance in the music is glaring at first, but with continuous listening to the music, one is able to appreciate the music in the dissonance. And multiple exposures to this genre would produce a cultured appreciation of the marimba genre.