Mustang Marimba Madness, or M to the third power, for short, is a buzz across the Puyallup School District, according to staff members who watched the fifth- and sixth-grade Maplewood Elementary performers on stage.
“At our Cultural Competency Day in August, they were the most popular group,” said Tim Yeomans, superintendent of Puyallup schools. “They’re always smiling and having a good time. It’s a neat cultural piece and very positive all the way around.”
The director is Maplewood music teacher Maggie Smith, who founded the group in spring 2011.
“My mentor teacher had a marimba band of his own at his school, which inspired me,” Smith said. “The first year, we had a small group of kids, and then it soon exploded into this huge thing.”
Last year, 50 fifth- and sixth-grade students auditioned. This past fall, 40 students auditioned. Twenty were selected for the elite group.
Thanks to a $1,500 grant from the Maplewood PTA, Smith purchased a handmade 3 1/2 octave box resonator marimba, large enough to fit three to four students performing at a time. The increased capacity allowed Smith to add more students to the group.
On Oct. 29, the marimba group performed its first concert of the year at the first Spirit Day of the year and unveiled the new marimba, which Tom Bourne of Bellingham made with sustainable materials. The instrument is based on an Australian design and often is called an Aussie Marimba.
In the first year of the program, Smith purchased two mini marimbas from Bourne, with the help of the school district’s music department. To complement the marimbas, xylophones and other small percussion have been added to the ensemble.
Students in the marimba band presented a large thank-you card to the Maplewood PTA.
“This is a spectacular group of people,” Smith said. “I was blown away by the support of our PTA. (The PTA) supports music programs, computers labs and makes Maplewood a memorable place to come and learn.”
Because Smith teaches the fundamentals of the marimba to students in grades K-6, she said all students at the school would be impacted by the PTA’s “gracious gift.”
All the students at the assembly raised their hand when they were asked if they’d had an opportunity to play the 3 1/2 octave marimba.
Tinell Skaug, secretary of the Maplewood PTA, said when Smith approached the group, they thought the purchase of the marimba would “help Maplewood stand out and be a unique school in the district.”
“We hope that the marimba will benefit students for many years to come,” Skaug said. “It will add to the legacy of Maplewood and help instill that love of music. Maggie does a great job of instilling a love for the arts in general.”
Smith is a Rogers High School graduate and earned her education degree at Pacific Lutheran University. She has taught for three years at Maplewood.
Maplewood Principal Susan Walton said Smith is a great music teacher.
“She is dedicated, smart and totally, 100 percent focused on the kids,” Walton said. “She gives kids the ability to shine. She brings out talents in kids that they don’t know they had. She builds their confidence.”
Both Charlie Schoos and Sydney Lewis, 11-year-old sixth graders, said the 3 1/2 octave marimba has enhanced the range of the group.
“(The marimba) has a bigger range, and you’re able to do more harmonies with it,” Schoos said.
Lewis admires the size of the instrument.
“I like that it’s bigger, and there is space for more students, and we’re not all waiting for an instrument to play,” Lewis said.
Looking ahead to the new school year, Smith anticipates the group will have many performances ahead of them. They will perform at every Spirit Day assembly at Maplewood, in addition to concert tours across the district and a performance at the Spring Fair next April.