Gateway’s New Marimbas

Walking around Gateway School’s campus you can hear music and laughter pouring out of the Music room. You can catch strains of songs played on Gateway’s new Zimbabwean-style Marimbas, which were hand built especially for Gateway in Oregon last spring. 

Music Specialist David Cameron was first introduced to the Zimbabwean-style Marimbas while attending a teaching conference in Seattle, Washington. He felt that marimbas would be a great addition to our Orff Shulwerk Approach to music education which emphasizes movement, speech, rhythm, and play. Marimbas originated in Africa and have become quite popular in many areas of the Pacific Northwest, and can be heard in places such as the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Australia, and Canada. 

The Zimbabwean-style Marimbas used by Gateway students are based on the marimbas developed in the Shona tradition in Zimbabwe. Much of the music traditionally played on them stems from mbira (thumb piano) music from the same region. Zimbabwean-style Marimbas were first introduced to the United States by Dumisani “Dumi” Maraire in the 1980s. Thanks to a small yet mighty group of donors, Gateway is the first school in Santa Cruz to have these instruments.

Gateway students are currently working on two songs, Simon and Tatenda to learn the rhythms and timing needed to play marimbas. Teaching music on the marimbas allows for each student to self-differentiate within the piece while continuing to be an important part of the song as a whole. The bass line is the most simple to play, while the tenor line is the most challenging. However, everyone’s part is essential to the whole – the song only works if everyone plays their part. Students have a choice about what they would like to play knowing that every part is equally important, regardless of how difficult or simplistic it is. Eventually, other instruments will be added to their marimba arrangements, such as percussion and guitar, and the students will be able to showcase their hard work at an All-School First Friday Assembly performance. In the meantime, students are thrilled to experience a new instrument – one with a special history that connects them to the greater global community.