Steve Mackey - Composer, Musician


It is no secret that I’m a fan of the marimba since I’ve written a lot of music including solo pieces, chamber music and a concerto. I love the fact that the marimba can stand on its own as a solo instrument but has a quirky quality and is not as homogeneous top to bottom as the piano. Because my music focuses on contrapuntal conversations between distinct characters, it takes advantage of the fact that there are three distinct registers each full of character to support strands of polyphony. When I think of the marimba I think of Marimba One because it has an ideal characterizations of these three registers. The bass fundamental is strong so that the harmony is clear but it has enough spice from the audible upper partials to be complex and exotic, almost electronic. The midrange is like butter – anything you write sounds good there(!), and the upper register has a bright ping that cuts.

What might be overlooked is how my love for the marimba has influenced my orchestration in works that are not explicitly about the marimba. The marimba offers warm but definite attacks like the harp but the marimba has a greater dynamic range and fresher timbre than the harp, not to mention that it is chromatic without fussing with pedals. It is also the only member of the percussion family that can play in the low register with agility. Before the five-octave marimba became common I would struggle with the timpani to provide that low percussive voice