Artistry and Sustainability Converge

The Michigandered marimba

Alex Smith, a master’s candidate in performance and musicology at MSU, has taken on a project that pushes the boundaries between musical eloquence, attainable materials, and the artistry required to construct a complex and precise instrument like the marimba. As a percussionist, Smith understands all too well what is required to play the marimba skillfully. But as a traveler abroad, he sees the challenges of conserving the diminishing and highly desirable wood materials needed to manufacture particular instruments.

Smith knew that rare woods, like rosewood and padouk, were often used for the production of marimba bars. He also learned that international labor was often involved in constructing percussion instruments. After taking those two things into consideration, he wanted to discover what it might take to make a quality instrument closer to home. Thanks to funding from MSU and the help of local luthier and marimba craftsman Matt Kazmierski, Smith set out to make a sustainable, affordable marimba from resources obtained here in Michigan.

Alex Smith’s short documentary premiered on December 8 at Cook Recital Hall. The event also included a performance of a piece written specifically for the instrument by Michigan composer Victor Marquez, performed by Michigan artist Kelsey Tamayo.

Click here to see the full documentary film.

You can also hear an audio interview from WKAR public radio.

About Alex Smith. Before coming to the MSU College of Music, Smith received his undergraduate degree from East Carolina University. He is a percussion performance and musicology/ethnomusicology master’s student who is also interested in the music of the world, having lived in both Brazil and Ghana. Smith’s creative endeavors combine his local and abroad experiences with his compositional identity and passion for teaching and researching.

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