The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 12, 2013

Percussive prowess: Polyphony Marimba brings modern influences in its music

JOPLIN, Mo. — The first time Peter Swing heard marimba music from Zimbabwe, he was struck by how familiar it sounded, despite it being created half a world away.

"It just seemed familiar, even though I'd never been," Swing said. "It follows a similar chord structure to folk or pop music here."

Swing is the band leader of Polyphony Marimba, a seven-player marimba band based out of Santa Fe, N.M. The band will perform with local marimba band Kufara during Third Thursday next week.

The band will feature a high-energy mix of original compositions and traditional Zimbabwean songs. Plenty of music from its self-titled album will also be featured.

Influences

Swing founded Polyphony Marimba in 2010, but it took 25 years for that to happen. In Portland, Ore., in 1987, he attended a concert featuring marimba music, and was surprised by how diverse and full the music was, he said.

That led him to attend a workshop led by Dumisani Maraire, a guest lecturer at the University of Washington who ended up staying for more than 20 years. Swing eventually studied under him, learned his passion for music and got to the point of teaching other students after just five years.

Swing said Maraire was like a reverse missionary -- the music he brought to the states caught like wildfire.

"He was an exceptional composer as well," Swing said. "He was a mentor to the whole scene of several marimba bands in Portland."

Under his teaching, Swing said he was able to learn how to dissect a song and put it back together. Maraire was gifted at uncovering the depths of a song, Swing said.

Pairing Maraire's teaching with his own rock and folk influences, Swing started several other marimba bands. He relocated to Santa Fe in 1996, where Polyphony Marimba was born.

The band is a family affair: It includes his partner, Karyna Boyce, and his son, Raven Swing, who has written several of the band's songs. At 14, his son is an impressive composer -- "Kiki," one of the band's more intricate, syncopated songs, was written by the 14-year-old.

"Sometimes we're just musicians pleasing each other musically and annoying each other during rehearsals," Swing said. "Then I realize he's my son. It's a total blessing and gift."

The band's music is filled with intricately layered melodies that feature a rhythmic interplay, Swing said.

 Marimbas of various sizes produce a full orchestral sound, from high-pitched melodic sopranos to full, deep baritone and bass sounds.

Swing said he and Raven Swing write most of the band's music and focus on lacing separate lines to create a musical tapestry.

Influenced by the chord structures found in folk, rock and some classical songs, the band has a varied collection of upbeat harmonies and deeper, spiritual numbers.

"We've been rocking pretty hard these days," Swing said. "It's a good workout for the musicians. Some of our songs are more reflective, but the rest are straight-up dance and rock."

Band members have also made their own marimbas. A page on the band's website reports that they made the first E-flat-tuned marimbas in North America.

Want to go?

Polyphony Marimba and Kufara will perform during Third Thursday events at the north stage, located at First and Main streets.

Third Thursday will be held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday. For a complete listing of events, exhibits and other features, read our special section starting on page 9. Details: 417-310-3472.

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