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The Ever Expanding Outdoor Marimba

If you go back far enough, I’m sure you can remember the days when there were NO Mallet Instruments on the marching field…or any other sideline percussion for that matter. Even if you don’t go back quite that far, you probably remember the day when sideline percussion was made up of one Marimba, Xylophone, Vibe, maybe a few Timps and a station of concert toms/cymbals/hand-held gadgets. Boy, how times have changed.

Check out Drum Corps sidelines over the past few years and you would be hard pressed to find less than 4 Marimbas, 2-4 Vibes, several sets of Timps and at least 3-4 stations of concert bass drums/toms and hand held percussion. As incredible as this expansion is, it is also equally incredible that the marimba itself has “grown” from the standard 4.3 Octave into placing 4.6 and 5.0 Octave instruments in the outdoor arena…and not just in DCI!

I’m sure it started before I noticed it, but the first person I know that really pushed to place these larger instruments on the sidelines was Brian Mason…then of the Phantom Regiment and now with Santa Clara Vanguard and Morehead State University. Brian told me years ago that he didn’t want to be limited in his writing and with the full sound of the Regiment, he wanted his sideline to be able to support the horn line with a larger range of sound. So, he started taking 4.6 and 5.0 instruments out on the field.

The drawback was that the larger instruments only had Rosewood bars, which ended up having excessive wear-n-tear and lost much of their sonic effectiveness. This led manufacturers such as Adams to make a 4.6 and even a 5.0 Marimba with Synthetic Bars and even now with an outdoor Field Frame. The Adams MAKF46 Marimba is a full 4.6 Octave “Concert” instrument that has outdoor friendly Synthetic Bars (which really have a very full, rich, and bottom end tonality) all on an outdoor Field Frame so it will travel over any terrain. It’s amazing to think that only a few short years ago, we were using Marching Timpani and Marching Mallet Instruments on the field…ah, the days of the Blue Stars…and now, Marimbas that were originally designed for the Concert Hall are commonplace on the field. As long as the equipment trucks are big enough, I suspect that the Percussion sideline will continue to grow.

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