by Neil Chandra on Friday, May 4th, 2012Thursday April 26, students from the Mara-a-Pula school in Botswana arrived at Milton Academy, marking the beginning of a three-day visit with an entertaining marimba concert. Milton’s jazz program will host these students for the weekend, as they share their talent with the Milton community before continuing their United States tour to raise funds to provide scholarships to AIDS orphans who attend their school.
A few hours after arriving on campus on Thursday, the Mara-a-Pula marimba band members set up their instruments in King Theatre and played an energetic set of over an hour’s worth of music. The group, led by director Tlotlego Enamile Gaogakwe, is composed entirely of students from the Mara-a-Pula private school in Goborone, Botswana.
Having developed a relationship with the Mara-a-Pula school many years ago, Milton Academy’s jazz program had the privilege of hosting the Mara-a-Pula school’s marimba band in 2008.
During the school’s 2008 tour of the United States, the group had to overcome unforeseen adversity. Due to airline regulations, the group was not permitted to check their instruments on to the plane. Fortunately, help came from the unlikeliest of places; a woman from Syracuse who had fashioned nine of her own Zimbabwean F# (F sharp) marimbas offered to lend the group her instruments for the duration of their tour. The sheer unlikelihood of the occurrence drew attention to CBS Evening National News, on which the group was featured.
The Zimbabwean F# marimba is a percussion instrument consisting of wooden bars held over a resonation chamber.
The varying lengths of the bars produce a variety of pitches that create unique melodies. The Mara-a-Pula group uses four different styles of marimbas and various percussion instruments to create harmonious and energetic melodies. Most important within the musical structure of these tunes is the rhythm, all of which derive itself directly from the work of Mr. Gaogakwe, who is described as “a modern day, marimba Beethoven” by Scott Tarantino, director of the Tungurura Marimba ensemble.
Many students enjoyed the Maimba band concert not only as an entertaining activity, but as a learning experience as well. Nathan Stanfield (III), a member of the Jazz program and an avid drummer, mentioned that he found the Marimba concert to be extremely “helpful to his rhythm” and “unusually cool.” Many other jazz students echo Nathan’s sentiment because of the opportunity to exchange thoughts, rhythms, and ideas through music.
The Mara-a-Pula band members share Milton student’s enthusiasm about their visit. Felicity, one marimba band member, expressed that “she  had such a good time [here] at Milton Academy,” later indicating that “she really enjoyed the opportunity to share music.”
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