Marimba Chapinlandia
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Marimba Chapinlandia
Marimba Music Of Guatemala
Smithsonian Folkways (www.folkways.si.edu)

When the Guatemalan Congress declared the marimba to be the national instrument in 1978, it belatedly if obliquely acknowledged the instrument's sixteenth-century African origins and subsequent Mayan adaptations. Paradoxically, by the twentieth century, the politically dominant Ladino or mestizo ethnic group had culturally expropriated the marimba as representative of Guatemalan national identity, neatly sidelining the majority Maya population in the process.

Retooled as a European chromatic instrument, the modern marimba, crafted in Quetzaltenango in the late nineteenth century, proved adaptable to classical and popular European forms that were fashionable in salons and ballrooms of the era. This hybrid dance repertoire-taken up by police, military, and government ministry ensembles-remains prominent today, and is emblematic of the marimba in contemporary Guatemala.

As one Jesuit priest based in the region observed in 1925, "These native-made instruments (rude xylophones with calabash resonators) under capable players can be made to produce wonderful orchestral effects, and some players from Guatemala present classical programmes, Wagner, Gounod, Verdi, Chopin and others, in finished artistic expression. Their management of crescendo and pianissimo movements is a revelation." So it is with Marimba Chapinlandia on this title, recorded in Guatemala, a winning 19-track repertoire (blues, bolero, corrido, foxtrot, fox-blues, guaracha, guarimba, mazurka, seis por ocho (6/8), son, vals canción, waltz) penned by popular Guatemalan composers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Marimba Chapinlandia comprises the customary four players on the 78-key marimba grande, plus three players on the smaller, higher-pitched 59-key marimba tenor, accompanied by string bass and drums. (In tropical and big-band settings, this formation may be augmented with alto and tenor sax, trumpet, and trombone.) Characteristically, marimba ensembles play for weddings, baptisms, communions, birthdays, parties, dances, cultural festivals and the like, and this title reflects prevailing contemporary Ladino cultural tastes.

The extensive, instructive English- and Spanish-language notes are by Guatemalan composer, conductor, and musicologist Dieter Lehnhoff, who studied in Salzburg and the Catholic University of America. An avid scholar and collector of classical music composed in Central America, Lehnhoff is Director of the Musicology Institute at Guatemala's Universidad Rafael Landívar; he also directs the Metropolitan Orchestra and National Chorus of Guatemala. - Michael Stone

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