Saturday, October 8, 2011

Keiko Abe and Modern Marimba Music

More than any other person, Japanese composer, performer, educator and innovator Keiko Abe has led the way toward transforming the marimba from a competitor to other chromatic mallet percussion instruments into the leader of the pack.

Born in Tokyo in 1937, she was somewhat of a prodigy, beginning to perform regularly on xylophone on NHK radio and television at the age of 13.  As she matured, she turned more toward the marimba.  In her mid-20s, she formed a marimba trio, which toured extensively in Japan.  Around the same time, Yamaha approached Abe for assistance in creating a new class of concert marimba.  The result was the five-octave marimba with large resonating chambers, now standard at most music schools and conservatories worldwide.

She has written scores of compelling compositions for marimba.  Perhaps more important, though, she has inspired thousands of new works by composers worldwide, for the expanded palette of the grand marimba.

Here she is, performing an unnamed work recently:

Thursday, at the University of Alaska Anchorage, my teaching assistant, Eric Bleicher, performed two of Keiko Abe's works for my Music Appreciation class. Here he is, playing Abe's Sakura, based on the well-known Japanese folksong on

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