Canyon Creek’s marimba band has been a tradition at the school for seven years.
“It’s become part of the school culture here,” says Patricia Bourne, Canyon Creek’s music teacher and director of the group. “Only sixth graders can participate and those who do understand the commitment they must make, as it requires time, energy, self-discipline and responsibility.”
The idea to form a marimba ensemble was initially driven by students, who were interested in playing more challenging music with the instruments.
The first group consisted of 20 kids. This year, there are 33, with an almost even split between girls and boys.
Although acceptance to the band does not require an audition, it does necessitate the completion of an application form.
“I had 65 students apply this time around and I had to draw names to see who would get in,” says Bourne. “It was hard to disappoint those who weren’t selected.”
Bourne explains that she has been using marimbas in her classes for 10 years and that they are very popular with the kids.
She notes their accessibility and the fact that very young children can learn to play the instruments without too much difficulty.
She adds, “There’s immediate feedback to the marimba, which is well-suited to children.”
Bourne’s husband Tom makes the marimbas.
“I brought home a book about marimbas years ago,” she says, “and I asked him to make me one. He’s a musician himself and also a wonderful woodworker. After creating that first one, he’s gone on to make many more and now has his own company, Bourne Marimbas.”
The students, according to Bourne, take great pleasure in making music with the instruments.
She comments that it’s physically hard work to play the marimbas, but for boys, that aspect is particularly appealing.
“They get to hit something hard and it’s perfectly appropriate and acceptable,” she adds. “And they get to do it with their buddies. What more could you ask?”
As a member of the ensemble, students must attend rehearsals every Monday and Friday after school from February to June. Independent practice is also highly encouraged.
During May and June, the group performs at several events, including the school’s art gala, Sorenson’s preschool carnival, for the University Women’s Club in Seattle and at Pacific Lutheran University, as well as at the Bothell Arts Fair this summer.
“It’s so rewarding for the students to have the chance to perform, as they’ve worked so hard and they’re thrilled to share their music with others,” comments Bourne.
She continues to explain that the children delight in the positive response they get from audiences.
“People smile and sometimes they start moving and dancing to the music. They always appear to be enraptured by the performances,” she adds. “They’re often surprised to learn that the kids are only 11 and 12 year olds because it just seems like it would be too difficult for children of that age to play these instruments so well.”
In addition to having fun participating in the band, students gain invaluable learning from the experience.
Musically, their sense of timing and rhythm improves, along with their understanding of theory, form and tonality.
Socially and emotionally, they learn about cooperation, commitment and accountability.
“They really take on a sense of maturity over time,” says Bourne. “They realize that they’re participating in a legacy and that there is a level of expectation and responsibility that comes with their participation.”
Bourne chooses the music selection for the group, opting for numbers that represent a variety of different genres, spanning from jazz and contemporary songs to the tunes of the 50s.
For sixth grader Saahil Vasdev, the music is energizing and makes him feel happy.
“Mrs. Bourne always picks out good music for us to play,” he says. “Some of the songs are difficult at first, but with practice they get easier.”
Saahil knew he wanted to be a part of the band after hearing his older friends talk about the experience.
“They told me how fantastic it was, which made me want to do it,” he adds. “I was so glad to get in and it’s been so much fun. The group really comes together and it’s great to see our skills improve.”
Fellow student Daniel Borgida expresses his pride at being a part of the ensemble, saying, “It really feels good to work at something that’s challenging and then be able to do it well. I like performing to show others what we’ve learned and to show them that marimbas are fun instruments. It’s also a way to get younger kids interested.”
Bourne derives much joy from directing the band and comments that the age level of the members is ideal. She remarks, “They’re so responsible and capable and they’re only limited by my skill.”
She comments that as she is a “true musician,” she loves great music, adding, “But, I love it even more when I can see and hear kids making great music. That is incredibly rewarding for me.”