The Heartland Marimba Quartet (HMQ) is North America’s premiere marimba quartet and the primary performing ensemble of Heartland Marimba. HM’s mission is to reach an array of audiences to support and advance the classical marimba art form, its music, composers, and performers. Heartland Marimba began in 2014 through the vision and leadership of internationally acclaimed marimba soloist Matthew Coley (IA). In the fall of 2016, Coley assembled a group of highly accomplished marimba specialists from around the country to perform concerts of music by American composers with expressive mastery. These artists include Michael J. Jones (TX), Joe Millea (AZ), Andrew Veit (IL), and Abby Fisher (first call substitute, NY). HMQ regularly tours in the spring and fall to a variety of venues including universities, concert halls, churches, museums, and high schools to conduct concerts, collaborations, and educational events. The artists also serve as the main teachers and mentors at the annual Heartland Marimba Festival, an in-depth marimba academy for high school and college students as well as aspiring performers.
What will you be performing at Studio Z?
HMQ’s program will showcase works written for Heartland Marimba, including Alex Orfaly’s Fôr Marimbas, Steven Simpson’s Fluidity, and the first movement of a new marimba quartet composition by our own Matthew Coley. Additionally, the concert will continue supporting the established repertoire for marimba quartet by featuring Kevin Romanski’s Fantasy and Michael Burritt’s Marimba Quartet.
HMQ and Heartland Marimba have very active music education programs. How does your work in education inform your work as performing artists?
Education of current student percussionists and marimbists, new and old audience members, and youth are all very important to HM’s comprehensive mission, and to the individual HMQ artists. We hope to inspire many generations with creativity and passion in order to continue the growth of the art form from year to year, but also to reach people and influence their lives in positive ways. We find the connection between marimba performance and a new audience is very immediate. Fortunately, marimba has the visual/physical component of performance on its side. We feel that programming can be fairly adventurous if there is a human/organic and relatable connection between what the audience is hearing and what they are seeing. It needs to make sense together and not be too contrived or too contained. And of course the music has to be performed in a highly artistic way. When you’re able to figure out the balance between the aural and physical the audience is entranced beyond expectations. It’s magical. At that moment we are able to educate and truly advance the art form, chipping away at making a real and sustainable future for the instrument and the artists.
As far as our summer festival of classes, lessons, and concerts for students and our initiatives in elementary music, we are fully committed to sharing what we have been fortunate to gather in our careers in order to benefit youth and up-and-coming performers. This is the most important thing we do as performers. These programs not only provide the foundation for what we hope will one day become full-time positions for the HMQ members but they are the heartbeat of what we do and why we do it. Some of our favorite concerts we’ve done have been at high schools and for small communities that have never seen or heard the marimba. Imagine being that person and seeing four 5-octave marimbas coming to life onstage! It would be amazing.
How does HMQ determine which repertoire to perform, and what is the rehearsal process like when preparing new rep?
HMQ seeks to inspire the next generation of American composers to write for marimba quartet in an effort to fill a void that currently exists in the repertoire. We perform works exclusively by American composers and aim for a balanced program of both new and traditional works. We also emphasize establishing new relationships with composers and actively pursue commissions of novel works for marimba quartet to enrich and diversify our set list. HMQ holds regular video conference calls in which every member weighs in on repertoire development. Once we have settled on a tour program, the sheet music is quickly distributed to all performers. Because we choose to memorize most of our program, members must practice diligently in their home state during the months leading up to a performance. If we are able to meet prior to a tour, we record our rehearsals so the audio may be used as a helpful practice guide. The final step is meeting for two or three days prior to the start of our tour for intensive rehearsals. These are often very intense periods, but the effort put in is well worth it!
Heartland Marimba Quartet
The Heartland Marimba Quartet presents an evening of contemporary works by American composers, including the premiere of Matthew Coley’s Rivers of Rage, a political commentary piece written for the quartet.