The Heartland Marimba Festival is coming to Blacksburg July 11-15 with three free concerts for the public. Performers include high school, college, and professional percussionists from across the country.

The festival seeks to reach a range of audiences to help support and advance the classical marimba art form, its music, its composers, and its performers. The first Heartland Marimba Festival and Workshop took place in 2014 at Iowa State University, organized by founder and executive director Matthew Coley.

Annie Stevens, an assistant professor in the School of Performing Arts, has wanted to bring a summer percussion festival to Blacksburg since she started teaching at Virginia Tech in 2013. She first connected with Coley at the 2017 Day of Percussion at Virginia Tech, where she discussed the possibility of hosting the Heartland Marimba Festival in Blacksburg.

“I am thrilled to welcome the Heartland Marimba Festival to our town,” said Stevens. “This will be an enriching event for all involved, including the outstanding percussionists invited from across the country, for local music educators who will observe and participate, and for the audiences in Blacksburg.”

The marimba, a larger version of the xylophone, is a percussion instrument consisting of a set of wooden bars with the same orientation as a piano. The bars are struck with mallets; some works require the performer to use four mallets, two in each hand.

Three concerts are scheduled for July 12–14. The performances will be a scaled-down re-creation of the marimba orchestra that was made popular by Clair Omar Musser, a marimba virtuoso and conductor whose 100-piece marimba orchestra created a sensation at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and performed throughout the world.

“Audiences can expect to hear a variety of music for marimba, including such familiar tunes as ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’ and a Rossini medley, both arranged for a large marimba orchestra,” Stevens says. “New works will also be performed by the Heartland Marimba Quartet and my percussion duo, Escape Ten, which will perform ‘Clear Midnight,’ an enthralling marimba duo composed by Eastman School of Music professor Michael Burritt.”

Tickets are not required for the Blacksburg performances, which are free and open to the public:

  • Thursday, July 12, at 3 p.m. at the Village Center, Warm Hearth Village, 2387 Warm Hearth Drive. Features the Heartland Marimba Quartet and faculty soloists.
  • Friday, July 13, at 7:30 p.m., College Avenue. Features student performances and members of the Heartland faculty.
  • Saturday, July 14, at 5 p.m. in Burruss Auditorium on the Virginia Tech campus. Features the Marimba Orchestra.

Watch the Heartland Marimba Quartet perform here.

Sponsors for the Heartland Marimba Festival include Malletech, Marimba One, DREAM Cymbals and Gongs, Remo, Vic Firth, and Yamaha.