Young marimba player hears music ‘dance’

Hannah Dick, who won the Empire State Youth Orchestra’s 2015 Lois Lyman Concerto Competition, will p
Hannah Dick
Hannah Dick

Hannah Dick loves to play marimba.

“I’m the youngest of five kids and we all played music,” she said. “At 6 I began taking piano lessons from my sister, so I’m not sure why I got into percussion. I think it’s because I wasn’t stuck playing just one instrument. In the percussion section you can play 20 instruments. You never get bored.”

Dick is the Empire State Youth Orchestra’s 2015 Lois Lyman Concerto Competition winner and will play Brazilian composer Ney Rosauro’s Marimba Concerto, Op. 12 (1982) on Saturday.

Empire State Youth Orchestra

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 30 Second St. Troy

HOW MUCH: $20, $10

MORE INFO: 273-0038,

Marimba is not the usual choice for a 9-year-old to learn, especially when the player is a little girl.

“Some marimbas are adjustable to the height of the player, but even on the lowest setting it was too high for me,” Dick said. “So my dad made a platform for me to stand on.”

She also had to learn how to use the mallets, first only two and then four mallets, which all have their own note to play.

“It wasn’t until I was 11 that I got to use four mallets,” she said. “You need to have a lot of coordination because they’re used independently.

“The intervals are always different. The B chord of B, D-sharp, F-sharp and B is one of the hardest because it has an awkward hand position.”

The one thing that was familiar was that the marimba is laid out like a piano’s keyboard. But even now that she’s been playing the instrument for almost 10 years, Dick said she is still getting comfortable reading the bass clef.

“I’m at a level two piano,” she said laughing.

New marimbas also have more notes, or five octaves, than older models, and this is the instrument Dick will perform on.

“The orchestra had a December fundraiser to buy it,” Dick said. “It was a big deal. Few orchestral percussion sections have a marimba, usually it’s a xylophone. The new standard, though, is to use it as a solo instrument or in a percussion ensemble.”

When she decided to play Rosauro’s concerto, which is considered the most popular marimba concerto ever, Dick checked out YouTube and discovered Dame Evelyn Glennie giving a 1990s performance.

“I watched it and thought she took too fast tempos, but it inspired me,” Dick said.

Even better, when Glennie was in town last May to perform with the Albany Symphony Orchestra, she gave a master class and Dick was one of the percussionists chosen to play for her.

“I played the first movement of the Rosauro and she was insightful,” Dick said. “She can feel the notes on her face and helped me with phrasing and where to hit on the bars to get different sounds. It was also my birthday, so it was special.”

Working on the piece has taught her some new mallet techniques and how better to shape a phrase.

“But I love the energy of the piece. It feels like I can dance,” she said. “And you can always hear the marimba from the way he wrote the orchestra parts.”

The program also includes Berlioz’s “Roman Carnival Overture,” Grieg’s “Norwegian Dances,” and Hindemith’s “Symphonic Metamorphosis.”

Dick, from Schenectady, is home-schooled. College beckons, and she decided just this week that she’ll go to the Eastman School of Music/University of Rochester for a dual program of percussion performance and psychology.

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