No music notation? No problem for ASU Latin Marimba Band

A diverse and cultural experience that will have you up and dancing

ASU Latin Marimba Band will be holding a dance party that will combine many culturally diverse music and dances for the audience to enjoy and learn from.

Merengue, cumbia, guaracha, zapateado, bolero and rumba are just a few of the diverse cultural dances and ethnic music that will be featured during this year’s Latin Dance Pachanga that will be put on by the ASU Latin Marimba Band and open to the public for free. Directed by Professor of Music, Ted Solis, the event will be taking place on Nov. 16 in the School of Music Fountain Courtyard between 6 and 7 p.m.

This dancing event not only presents a diverse musical program but also combines traditional significance. Solis, who has been working at ASU for 27 years, started the Latin Marimba Band during 1990 and since then has been organizing some sort of event similar to the Latin Dance Pachanga every year.

“I completely started it because that was an area of my own research,” Solis said. “It was my Ph.D dissertation subject…I came in the fall of 1989 and started the ensemble in the spring of 1990. I have been putting on some kind of an event like this since that very time.”

Solis said at first, the event started just as a concert with the accompaniment of ASU’s Mariachi Band, and then it expanded to a collaboration with the Folkloric Dance group. Years later, they moved out from the concert hall and into the School of Music’s courtyard, Solis said.

Marimba Madera de Comitan is the official name for the ASU’s Latin Marimba Band. The importance of the name dates back many generations starting with Professor Solis’ grandfather who was originally from Mexico.

“My grandfather…he was from a town called Comitan,” Solis said. “And that is the area that is famous for marimbas. It’s original folk music. And so when they say something like ‘Maderas de Comitan’ it means like the wood of Comitan. But of course it really refers to the keys of the marimba. That’s just like a metaphor, in a sense, for the marimba. They often will name it after a particular town or where the group comes from.”

The event is unique in that the musicians didn't take a classical approach to learning their notes. The dance will be showcasing a diverse collection of Latin music.

“We don't use music notation, they learn everything by ear,” Solis said. “We play Latin music of all types. I always like to have a variety of music. It’s fun for me, it’s fun for the audience, it’s fun for my students.”

Jeff Erickson is a member of the Latin Marimba Band and is a graduate student majoring in Music Education. He said that learning music without notation is quite difficult.

“It’s challenging just because you have to remember everything and sometimes you don’t have much time to practice,” Erickson said. “It’s a fun way to get into the music around the culture and kind of experience how they would learn music and learn their music from each other. I think the biggest thing is the cultural experience.”

Karen Taylor is a graduate student in Organ Performance, and is another member of the marimba ensemble. She said that reading music is not necessary to be a part of the band.

“I signed up for the ensemble and there’s no prerequisites; you don't have to know how to read music, it’s open to anybody,” Taylor said. “In fact we haven’t even ever read any music it’s all Dr. Solis' demonstration and then we just imitate. He is very patient with us; very friendly and encouraging.”

It is Taylor’s first year being involved with the Latin Marimba Band and said the audience should expect an enjoyable and relaxed atmosphere and to be ready to partake within the performance.

“I’d just come ready to have fun,” Taylor said. “We are going to come get them up and bring them on to dance with us, so a little bit of audience participation.”

Aside from not using any musical notation, the students in the ensemble are expected to dance and sing in various languages.

“We sometimes sing in African dialect and in Spanish, I don't think we have any English at all,” Taylor said. “It is quite difficult to sing in other languages and smile and play at the same time.”

Taylor said all of the time the band has put into practicing will finally be put to use this upcoming Wednesday.

“The music is to help people relax and to heal them and to have fun,” Taylor said. “But on a musician side; you practice, you practice and you hope you have an audience."

 This free event is happening Nov. 16 in the School of Music Fountain Courtyard between 6 and 7 p.m.

Reach the reporter at or follow @marcellabaietto on Twitter.

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