Spotlight Program


February 2017

Marimba Ensemble (Holy Cross)

Chicago, Illinois
The Marimba Ensemble at Holy Cross

The Holy Cross Marimba Ensemble is an opportunity for youth in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood to learn a musical instrument, meet mentors, and grow into leadership positions. The ensemble started in 1990 with 4 young players. Over two decades later, the group is still inspiring leadership, ambition, responsibility, and creativity in approximately 45 young people each year.

The Marimba Ensembles’ members typically begin learning to play by ear in 7th or 8th grade; most of the group’s performing members are in high school. Former marimba players serve as paid teachers and mentors to the younger musicians. The group performs in 100+ annual performances.

These performances are a huge motivating factor for the young players to stay involved in the program and out of trouble. Over the years, the group has played all over Chicago at locations ranging from City Hall, the Museum of Science and Industry, and Midway Airport to parties for families and businesses. In addition to these local performances, every summer the Marimba Ensemble travels around the country playing at cultural events and other parishes. These summer trips enable the young musicians to broaden their world view and see what’s beyond the Holy Cross parish community

Membership also boosts the young musicians’ self-esteem, expands their understanding of who they are, and highlights how their talent impacts other people. The staff at Holy Cross has found that the longer young people stay committed to the Marimba Ensemble, the more likely they are to go to college. In fact, 100% of the players who have stayed in the program for 3 or more years pursue education beyond high school.

The group also gives youth an opportunity to express themselves creatively. Outside of the parish, there aren’t many opportunities to develop a talent or other positive forms of self-expression. Excelling at the marimba and sharing that talent with others, the members start to see themselves as having real potential, true talent, and a future. The Marimba Ensemble is designed to give the young musicians ownership of most of the group’s day-to-day responsibilities so they learn leadership skills and create something to be proud of.