WOOD Makes Music!™ is a marimba-making experiential craft activity designed to introduce participants to the sonorous properties of wood and the application of specialized information (knowledge) to construct a musical instrument. It is also an Installation Art community project when engaged outside of the classroom for art museums, public libraries and public spaces and places. The activity of construction is intentionally designed to show process and how art is easily integrated into science and how science is naturally integrated into the arts. With enough activity to address STEAM and STEAM curriculum standards, WOOD Makes Music!™ is Arts Integration that infuses the sociology of music with performance storytelling and world cultures. WOOD Makes Music!™ is a fun and engaging way to introduce and/or review various content and subject matter e.g. math concepts; the science of sound; wood types; ecology; conservation; world musical cultures (ethnomusicology) and musical explorations in rhythm and ensemble music-making. (There are many research possibilities for Report and Essay-writing for upper grades, middle and high school included, during and after the project that explore the similarities of marimbas/xylophones and their types from around the world.)
An Artist-Teacher-Student collaboration on goals and what to achieve and experience (Lesson Plan), WOOD Makes Music!™ promotes and supports GREEN initiatives by using recycled materials along with the store bought items. Students/participants are not subject to being harmed by hammering and nails as they are not needed or used for this particular teaching unit and lesson plan.
Residencies of at least 3 days are suggested for schools and public facilities interested in developing a teaching unit with a WOOD Makes Music!™ component in mind. The artist residency includes creating core-groups of students to play the marimbas they designed and constructed who will accompany a percussion ensemble (drummers, axatse players, claves, etc.) and a choral ensemble who will also learn to recite a traditional “drum poem” in Twi along with some songs and dancers throughout the life of the residency. The residency culminates with an Afahye-like (pronounced ah-FAH-shay) whole-school performance for the school community. (The traditional Afahye in these modern times for some have been shaped around a calendar for the farming seasons and is also referred to as Afehyia, meaning “a loop of seasons.” The history and explanations are given more in-depth during the artist-residency.)
Hear the joyous sounds and rhythms of a WOOD Makes Music!™ marimba by listening to The Baby Leopard, by Linda Goss, an audio-book/cassette published by
Bantum Doubleday Books (1989).
A short story about
“How WOOD Makes Music!™ Came to Be”
(by J’miah Nabawi)
WOOD Makes Music!™ began (and developed) in Philadelphia (PA) as a playful response to the Franklin Institute Science Museum’s open call to area performing artists to audition to be part of a national exhibit that was on tour and coming to the Franklin Institute. “What Makes Music?” was the exhibit and the auditioning artists were challenged to present their proposal and show how what they were offering as their public, interactive programming during the exhibit. Forming a frame-like base to lay several bare pieces of wooden slats across it as if it were a marimba, I started my proposal with a demonstration. I then struck the wooden pieces with two bare sticks as mallots. All you could hear was, “click-a-dee, click-a-dee, click-click-click,” as I played up and down the wooden keys and got only the sound of wood hitting wood. There was nothing musical about it. I then took the frame of wood underneath that was supporting the wooden slats that were laid across it as wooen keys to a marimba, added some rubber strips (rubber weather stripping) across the frame and replaced the wooden slats onto the pieces of rubber and struck them one again, the previously flat, unmusical “click-a-dee, click-a-dee, click-click-click” of just two sticks striking onto wood turned into melodic, richly harmonizing, musical sounds of a store-bought marimba or xylophone: “Bing ding-ding bong-bong bong-a-ding-ding!” You could hear the judges and audience gasp with surprise, a few jumped out of their seats and ran to the stage to see what I had done. With that, I said, What Makes Music? WOOD makes music! And that’s how it all began for the program I call, WOOD Makes Music! That was quite a funny moment I’ll never forget! Some of the judges even jerked back in their seats smiling and looking surprised when those harmonic tones came ringing out of those oddly cut, unadorned mix-matched pieces of wood that included some of those old-fashioned reddish-brown “bed slats.” (I still crack a smile every time I think back on that day.) Along with some of the other artists, WOOD Makes Music!™ got the call back and a residency contract to present at the museum for a six-week long museum exhibit. It was really as awesome artist residency and WOOD Makes Music!™ was now on the map, so to speak, and eventually received more inquiries and requests to do residencies with music, art and math/science instructors and teachers. WOOD Makes Music!™ was eventually recognized and cited with a Proclamation by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives during an artist residency at the Blue Mountain School District’s cluster of schools later that year.
In 2001, WOOD Makes Music!™ became part of the Leonard Bernstein Artful Learning™ methodology of “Experience, Inquire, Create, Reflect” initiative through a U.S. Department of Education grant in partnership with Kennesaw State University (Kennesaw, GA) and the Grammy® Foundation. (Note: “Artful Learning™ allows teachers and teaching artists to skillfully blend core academic subjects like science and math with character education and the arts [art integration] in a seamless transition.”)
A segment of WOOD Makes Music!™ is now part of the national “Geek the Library” campaign in support of our local libraries across the nation and can be seen in the “Get Your Geek On” series of videos. WOOD Makes Music!™ is currently available for touring schools, community festivals and children’s museums.
“I got my Geek On doing more research on the sonorous properties of wood and how marimbas are used for different festivities in different parts of the world. Go ahead, “Get Your Geek On” making visits to the public library and support your local libraries!” ~ J’miah Nabawi
Here’s an example of WOOD Makes Music!™ marimba keys going from plain wood (store-bought or recycled lumber, we encourage recycling) to colorful, thematic designs done with markers and crayons by summer camp participants at the Lutheran Church of the Ascension’s (Savannah, GA) for their 2014 Music Week.
(All bare feet and wood on deck!)
This plain pile of wood went from this . . .
And we’re done! The bare pile of wood is now transformed into a colorful, musical marimba! These colorfully designed pieces of musical marimba keys were first drawn on paper and then onto the wood and painted or colored in with water markers and crayons by the children and camp directors.
Extended into an artist residency, WOOD Makes Music!™ becomes an engaging, fun INSTILLATION ART PROJECT where participants design and construct an oversized marimba that is left with the school and out on display. The marimba will also be tuned and usable for any future school musical activities as well.
WOOD Makes Music!™ at the Coastal Georgia YMCA’s Pryme Tyme
after-school program, Gould Elementary, Garden City, GA
WOOD Makes Music!™ had its first public schools introduction as an arts-in-education/arts integration artist residency at Blue Mountain Elementary Schools East and West in Orwigsburg, PA in 1990.
A 5th grade student nears completion of the marimba as he ties down the keys. Photo courtesy of Debbie Marteslo, Art Instructor, Blue Mountain Schools District.