In 2005, Eugene Cottrell, the Director of Bands at Northwood High School in Pittsboro NC, received the Mr. Holland's Opus Award for his dedication to his students and to his profession. And before that, the foundation donated instruments, including a grand marimba, to his wonderful program. Here is an essay by one of his students about how playing it affects her life.
When my band teacher Mr. Cottrell asked me in the spring of my Freshman year if I’d be interested in playing marimba in our high school’s marching band the following year, I didn’t know what to say. The first thing I did when I got home was to look up what a marimba was. Although I knew that mallet percussion existed, and I knew what a xylophone was, I’d never seen anything like a grand marimba before. I was instantly struck by how beautiful the instrument was, and I was amazed by the talent of professional marimba players when I watched videos of them. Imagining myself taking on the task of learning how to play, I was nervous, worried it would be far too overwhelming, and was unsure if I’d ever be able to do it. I agreed to give it a try, but at the time I had no idea how far it would take me.
Learning to play the school’s grand marimba was definitely a challenge for me, but it has been incredibly rewarding. Although I had some experience with music before learning marimba because I had been playing piano for a few years, this new instrument forced me to work harder and become a better musician. I had to learn how to play with two mallets, and then four. I learned how important it is to be responsible, and that an important part of playing an instrument is being confident in it. Marimba helped me to learn new styles of music and how to play more difficult pieces. Because of this, I became more interested in music than ever before.
If Mr. Cottrell had not asked me to play marimba, I’m unsure I would have ever gotten involved in band, mainly because I didn’t play a wind instrument and didn’t think there was anything I could do. After joining marching band, I became involved in other band programs in our school playing marimba and other percussion parts, including concert band, the spring musical, and this year, trying out for All Disctrict Band on marimba. I’ve met many of my closest friends through band, and some of the most important lessons I’ve learned have been from band. I can’t help but wonder if any of this would had happened, and where I would be if I had not said yes to trying marimba in my freshman year.
Although I also play piano and recently begun learning to play alto saxophone, marimba remains my favorite instrument to play. Our school also has the option of vibraphone, xylophone and a smaller marimba as well, but the grand marimba is the one I’ve most connected with. I’m so glad our school is fortunate enough to have one. I hope future students will enjoy playing it as much I have in the past four years. I also hope that my positive experience with it in high school will inspire me to continue playing and exploring my interest in music in college and beyond.