Community Voices: 25 Years of Hope through Music

November 16, 2015
Chicago, Illinois
Community Voices: The Challenges and Triumphs of Tutors and Mentors for At-risk Youth in Chicago

The Marimba Ensemble at Holy Cross Parish in Chicago recently celebrated its 25th year of teaching leadership skills and responsibility through music education and positive mentoring. In those 25 years, several generations of players have moved through the program, including Jorge O., one of the writers for our Community Voices series. But as you can see in Jorge’s piece below about the anniversary celebration, though older musicians may have moved on, they never really leave the Marimba Ensemble family.

After 25 years, the Holy Cross Marimba Ensemble was ready to celebrate. There have been a lot of players who have performed for various audiences in Chicago and around the country, and this past summer, musicians from six generations performed for supporters and fans at Holy Cross to mark the occasion. They were not only celebrating 25 years of music but 25 years of hope as well.

Over two decades of history, any group will eventually run into some bumps, like any other journey. In 2015, the Marimba Ensemble was in need of some funds to send the current marimba players on their summer tour of the Southwest. These tours have been the norm every summer; dedicated players are chosen to perform at locations across the country to see what lies beyond our Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago. Tours have long been an important part of the ensemble, so in order to raise funds for the 2015 trip, staff members at Holy Cross came up with a vision for this 25th reunion to both celebrate AND fundraise for the tour.

After about three months of organizing the program, food, and fundraising opportunities, the event was taking shape. There would be six groups that would perform. From the perspective of a former Marimba Ensemble member and leader, this was a great opportunity for younger players to see those who paved the way for them and for those retired members to come back and remember their times in the ensemble.

On June 6th, the current and alumni members of the Marimba Ensemble performed their most monumental concert to date. Supporters, family members, and friends filled Holy Cross. After welcoming the audience to the event, the youngest players in training—dubbed as the future of the ensemble—opened the show.

A marimba group plays at the ensemble's 25th anniversary concert

Group after group performed their songs after the youngest members finished. Each group performed from two to four songs, each one about four or five minutes long. All the groups brought a unique style to their performances. One group wore sunglasses in their performance, and another group even donned Mexican sombreros for their songs. One group even debuted a new song for the event! Each group drew cheers and applause from the audience. The last group to perform was the current active group. When they finished playing, they stood tall, proud that they are the ones still leading the efforts and excited to teach and mentor the younger players so that the cycle of the Marimba Ensemble never dies.

After the concert, a reception was held with food, music, raffle baskets, and a slideshow. During the reception, the Golden Mallet Award—equivalent to the Hall of Fame for the Marimba Ensemble—was given to a veteran player named Irene. She is only the second woman to receive the award, as female players have been scarce in the ensemble until recent times. Seeing a woman who has contributed so much receive the award was an inspiration to a lot of the girls in the group. All in all, the reception was a great event for many alumni members to talk, reminisce, and reconnect with their marimba family.

Cake with a mini marimba at the reception

It was a marvelous day for everyone. Best of all, the event raised enough money to send the current group on their summer tour. The Marimba Ensemble is so important because it’s a place where members learn leadership skills that help them in other real-life situations, such as job interviews and working in a team in their dream job. Based on the energy I saw from the crowd and players during the anniversary concert, it looks like we can anticipate many more anniversaries in which we celebrate the hope that is heard through marimba music.

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