If you haven’t watched the Goede Hoop Marimba Band play their version of Vivaldi – do yourselves a favour and watch it here now. OK – now that you’ve seen it, you won’t be surprised that it went viral. It bounces with vitality, energy, joy.
You may be surprised to hear that at AMI we are often asked whether ‘it’s ok to play’ a particular kind of music on marimbas. And when teachers ask this, they don’t seem to be asking about whether it is possible to play a certain kind of music, but they seem to be asking for permission. We could speculate as to why any musician thinks that some music is out of bounds for some instruments. For musicians who have had a western classical training, its easy to understand why they might feel constrained. Becoming a successful western classical musician means you must learn to follow the composer’s composition – written down in a musical score – with a high level of accuracy, or even, obedience. If composers are the ones who know best, and instrumentalists’ job is to follow the score, its easy to see how musicians can steadily lose confidence when it comes to playing something that is not written down for them by someone else. Or perhaps when it comes to writing something themselves.
The western classical tradition is pretty snobbish about what it considers as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ music. The prestige of orchestras and concert halls (think about who sponsors these, and how people are expected to behave when attending a concert) gives a veneer of exclusivity which maintains an impression of classical music’s superiority. By default, other musical genres (and there are gazillions), are relegated as less ‘good’. The knock-on effect of this snobbishness on music education is, of course, that western classical music has dominated formal music education for too long. Depending where you are in the world, this is no longer true, but there may just be a mindset that goes with western classical music that is perpetuated in classrooms, despite new genres being included. If this were not so, why would teachers ask whether it’s ok to play a particular genre on marimbas?
The arrangement of Vivaldi does something else which might be ‘against the rules’ for purists because it doesn’t reproduce the score as written. It is essentially a remix, using bits of a much more substantial musical work, reworking them in a simple way, and adding a syncopated rhythmic accompaniment that I bet Vivaldi is enjoying from the grave. It reworks clear, short-ish clips, that is, sections that are easy to learn, and to play, and puts them together in a fresh way. The parts are simple, the ‘question and answer’ of the melodic lines along with the dynamic contrasts are straight out of the original, but they work brilliantly on the marimba, with its percussive flavour. The music is instantly recognisable for those who know Vivaldi’s original works, but you don’t need to recognise the music as Vivaldi’s to be swept up by its energy. The arranger has brilliantly simplified the original to create a great piece. Most important, the players themselves seem to be having a blast, and all those views tell us that this is a really successful arrangement.
The lesson here is that no one should be limited by what is available in print. First you can rework a composition in a fresh way. Second, you can arrange any kind of music that you think will appeal to the players in your classroom. Just keep it simple and keep it groovy. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you, life is too short to spend time looking for material. Just take some inspiration from Goede Hoop’s Vivaldi and have a go and reworking something you think will work. If it’s diatonic – there’s nothing to stop you.