Marimba Ensemble (San Gabriel)
San Gabriel Mission Parish San Gabriel, California
After almost 25 years of overwhelming success with the Marimba Ensemble at Holy Cross Parish in Chicago, the Claretians expanded their marimba program to give more young people the opportunity to develop leadership skills, mentoring relationships, and self-confidence and esteem through music education. In 2013, Claretians and local community leaders started a Marimba Ensemble at San Gabriel Mission in San Gabriel, California.
The marimba is a xylophone-like percussion instrument consisting of wooden keys that produce sounds when struck with mallets to create rhythms and songs. The instrument is quite large, and as a result the musicians must work together as a team to play it. But being in this Marimba Ensemble isn’t just about music education and expression; participating in the group also teaches the young players valuable life skills, such as leadership, collaboration, and a sense of purpose. Equally as important, it keeps kids busy and off the street.
The San Gabriel program runs seven days a week. The teachers and players have individual lessons Monday through Friday from 3 to 9 pm. The ensemble stores its two marimbas in the music room in the Mission school, and though homework and other school responsibilities are prioritized over marimba practice, at least one teacher is available for lessons every weekday. On Saturdays, the ensemble holds a two-hour group practice for everyone to play together. They spend one hour on Saturdays practicing songs for their outside gigs and another hour practicing with and mentoring the San Gabriel Children’s Choir. On Sundays, they perform with this choir at Mass.
The college-age leaders and teachers put in a huge amount of time with their students, who range in age from junior high to college. In 2014, two of these leaders put in more than 300 hours; another clocked more than 150 hours of teaching. Each of the 18 players dedicated about 200 hours to practicing and performing. The dedication of these young people speaks volumes about the importance of this program; it asks a lot, but it gives much more.
As a reward for all their practice, the San Gabriel Marimba Ensemble plays gigs all around the area, including large cultural celebrations, city and parish events, quinceañeras, private parties, retirements, and birthdays. Playing these events helps the group raise much-needed funds to continue and expand the ensemble while also allowing the young musicians to form connections with their larger community through meeting new people and learning about history and different cultures. Playing events and holding fundraisers also helps pay for their joint summer tour with the Marimba Ensemble from Holy Cross, which has now become a tradition.
How is it that this ensemble gets teens and young adults to devote so much time to teaching, mentoring, and playing music? They do it because it’s fun and allows them to appreciate music and express their creativity, but also because San Gabriel’s Marimba Ensemble builds relationships. An adult leader of the ensemble explains it this way:
“It’s a family. They come together, they work together, they teach one another. And they are growing as leaders. It instills confidence in them. They mentor the younger players by being good examples, as well as showing them how to play.”
The Marimba Ensemble has built connections among its players and their community, and it has also connected these young musicians to their counterparts in Chicago. By the time the joint summer tour rolls around, it’s almost like a reunion for the players; they keep in touch throughout the year, sharing their lives and their music, supporting each other. Both communities struggle with similar economic challenges, but the connection they’ve formed has expanded both groups’ horizons. And when young people have a positive support network, they are significantly less likely to engage in risky behavior.