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Lynn Vartan, Solo Marimba

Dancing on the Head of a Pin


Friday, March 28th, 2014, 7:30pm

Emery Community Arts Center

Adults $12, free for 18 and under and students with ID


Lynn Vartan is an internationally recognized marimba performer with extensive connections to other cultures (Latin, Chinese, Vietnamese.) Described as “a commander of color” by the LA Times, Vartan is a three-time Grammy award nominee, and comes to Farmington through the sponsorship of the Arts Institute of Western Maine and the University of Maine Farmington. A featured work will be a composition by local artist Philip Carlsen.

     Currently Director of Percussion at Southern Utah University, Lynn has performed as a recital soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic concert series and with many universities, as artist in residence. She has participated in numerous cultural exchange projects and workshops, some designed around her. She performs in many chamber music ensembles, and often premiers works composed for her, from solos to concerti. The LA Times has praised her as “a commander of color”, and “a model of a musical action painter,” a percussionist who plays with “heft and energy.”

     AIWM is pleased to provide variety in its offerings, and in this exciting event, we will make the acquaintance of the world-travelling marimba! The marimba is a complex percussion instrument consisting of wooden bars struck with mallets; it is similar to a xylophone but has broader and lower tonal range as well as tubular resonators underneath. The word “marimba” has Bantu origin; the instrument is in fact the legacy of African slaves from west and central Africa who were brought to Central America in the 16th or 17th centuries. The first record of Mayan musicians using gourd resonator marimbas in Guatemala pinpoints the date to 1680; in fact, the marimba was declared the national instrument of Guatemala when the country obtained independence, in 1821. The early “diatonic” marimba (think of a C-major scale, no sharps and flats) was later expanded to include flats and sharps (think of the black notes on the piano) . For resonance, metal or wood tubes are hung vertically or in a bent U-shaped formation underneath the instrument; in folk music today, gourds may be used for this purpose. Current marimbas are 4- and 5-octave, and are generally made from hard woods such as rosewood, bubinga, and mahogany. While there have been attempts to extend the marimba’s range, a little beyond 5 octaves seems to be the maximum range possible: to lower the range requires longer resonators, and thus, taller instruments, as well as heavier mallets. Similarly, to expand the upper range would require harder mallets that aren’t compatible with the rest of the instrument. An often desirable buzzing and rattling sound is achieved in some instruments by carving holes in the bottoms of the resonators and covering them over with a delicate membrane, such as paper, or the intestine of a pig! The mallets which strike the instrument may be “two-toned” or “multi-tonal” ; these mallets have a hard core loosely wrapped with yarn, the configurations allowing for dynamic effects. A performer may use between two and four mallets , and sometimes as many as eight! The bars are struck by the mallets just off center for the fullest tone, while for articulation, one strikes dead center.


Please visit Lynn Vartan’s website at for more details about the performer, including information about her latest CD.

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