Marimba Music – Building Community

Playing music and singing with other people is a powerful way of creating community. Harmonizing with voices and instruments are both beautiful expressions of synergy. Synergy is defined as “the interaction of two or more ingredients to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.” When we make music as a group, we have the potential to tap into an archetypal power in music. I am not talking about engaging in the profession of music; I am referring to making music with others for the love of music and community.

Marimba band music is true community music. There are parts that can be played on the instrument that are very simple and other parts that are quite complex. All the parts are needed to create the whole sound. There is a lot of room for improvisation and the music is polyrhythmic and joyful.

Fifteen yeas ago, I started a middle school marimba band program at Evergreen Community Charter School. Through this experience, I learned to research traditional world music and cover songs to make arrangements, and to write originals for marimbas and voices. I had the opportunity to bring in guest artists from around the world who happened to live in Asheville or were visiting. I learned material from traditional artists from Zimbabwe, Guinea, West Africa, Puerto Rico, Japan and the Middle East. Most importantly, I learned to facilitate the talents of young people to create in the marimba workshop and to perform in public. Over the years, we performed at over 100 venues and produced five professionally recorded CDs.

In 2016, I decided to share the marimba band experience with the greater Asheville community. With the help of River Guerguerian of “Asheville Rhythm” I started the Village Marimba School. Village Marimba is a program of Asheville Rhythm, an organization that seeks to create a culture that promotes wellness through rhythm, and bridges musical traditions through innovative collaborations.

In Village Marimba classes, students learn a repertoire based on the group’s interest, including popular songs, multicultural songs, and original music. We work on proper mallet/stick technique, which is applicable to other percussion instruments, and we have fun playing music with other people, creating that magical synergy from making music as a community.

My students and their parents have a lot to say about the experience.

An adult student, Debbie Nordeen, former director of Womansong of Asheville says, “I highly recommend this class by Sue Ford! I love it! Going into this endeavor a bit overconfident because I have played piano for years, I was surprised to find that my left hand really didn’t like being so independent! Through playing marimba, my brain and left hand became even more engaged and flexible. They say learning a new language is great for us as we age. I say that MARIMBA is a language I love to ‘speak’ in! Join the fun!”

These are testimonials from parents of former students:
“I truly feel that marimba changed my son’s life. I tell people it was the first thing that he could work at and really see steady improvement in his life. His severe dyslexia has always made school an exercise in frustration despite his obvious intelligence. Sports have always come somewhat easily. But marimba was a challenge that he could stretch into and achieve a dream/goal.”

“For our son, a young person with social challenges, yet who possesses natural musical ability, Marimba Band is a positive experience that provides an outlet for musical expression, collaboration, and building friendships. The discipline of learning marimba repertoire and the interdependence of the instruments comes together in joyful performances that showcase the young musicians’ dynamic teamwork. Sue Ford is magical, and young musicians respond to her relaxed way of teaching, as well as her ability to treat them as mature, responsible young people.”

“Playing with the marimba band has given my child the ability to participate in a variety of venues for a variety of audiences. She has gained knowledge of rhythm, beats, cultures, and musicality in a format that is fun, engaging, and authentic. She has loved being with Ms. Sue and playing in a band with her friends. It has been a priceless opportunity that I feel she has been blessed to experience.”

“My son has had such a wonderful experience in marimba. It gave him the freedom and confidence not only to play but to compose music as well. It was a refuge and your gentle leadership was a blessing.”

On Saturday, December 2, Village Marimba classes will perform a concert, featuring two bands formed from the fall session: one adult band, “The Marimba Mamas” and one student band, “Knock on Wood.” The concert will include a set by guest artists, the “Gamelan Ensemble” from Warren Wilson College, directed by Kevin Kehrberg. Please join us for a wonderful evening of world music beginning at 7 pm at the Rainbow Community Auditorium, 60 State Street in West Asheville.
To inquire about upcoming classes for students aged 10-18 and for adults, please contact Sue Ford at

You can find Village Marimba on Facebook, and on

Village Marimba website is:

A North Carolina native, Sue Ford is a singer-songwriter-multi instrumentalist. She has been teaching music to Asheville preschoolers through middle-schoolers since 2003.
Sue is a composer, writing choral music for Womansong as well as her students. She has performed for 50 years and released an album of originals in 2004. She has won first place in the Mountain Xpress “Best Music Teacher” four years running.
Sue lives in Weaverville with her husband, professional puppeteer Hobey Ford.

Written by Sue Ford