Marimba Ensemble (San Gabriel)

After almost 25 years of overwhelming success with the Marimba Ensemble at Holy Cross Parish in Chicago, St. Jude League Community Development expanded their marimba program to give more young people the opportunity to develop leadership and teamwork skills, mentoring relationships, and self-confidence and esteem through music education while keeping busy and off the street. In 2013, Claretians and local community leaders started a Marimba Ensemble at San Gabriel Mission in San Gabriel, California.

The San Gabriel program runs seven days a week. The teachers and players have individual lessons Monday through Friday from 3 to 9 pm. The ensemble stores its two marimbas in an empty room in a local school, and though homework and other school responsibilities are prioritized over marimba practice, at least one teacher is available for lessons every weekday. On Saturdays, the ensemble holds a two-hour group practice for everyone to play together. They spend one hour on Saturdays practicing songs for their outside gigs and another hour practicing with and mentoring the San Gabriel Children’s Choir. On Sundays, they perform with this choir at Mass.

The college-age leaders and teachers put in a huge amount of time with their students, who range in age from junior high to college. In 2014, two of these leaders put in over more than 300 hours of time; another clocked over more than 150 hours of teaching. Each of the 18 players dedicated about 200 hours of to practicing and performing. The dedication of these young people speaks volumes about the importance of this program; it asks a lot, but it gives much more.

As a reward for all their practice, the San Gabriel Marimba Ensemble plays gigs all around the area, including large cultural celebrations, city and parish events, quinceañeras, private parties, retirements, and birthdays. Playing these events helps the group raise much-needed funds to continue and expand the ensemble while also allowing the young musicians to form connections with their larger community through meeting new people and learning about history and different cultures. Playing events and holding fundraisers also helps pay for their joint summer tour with the Marimba Ensemble from Holy Cross which has now become an annual tradition. 

How is it that this ensemble gets teens and young adults to devote so much time to teaching, mentoring, and playing music? They do it because it’s fun and allows them to appreciate music and express their creativity, but also because San Gabriel’s Marimba Ensemble builds relationships. An adult leader of the ensemble explains it this way:

 “It’s a family. They come together, they work together, they teach one another. And they are growing as leaders. It instills confidence in them. They mentor the younger players by being good examples, as well as showing them how to play.”

These connections are particularly important because when young people have a positive support network, they are significantly less likely to engage in risky behavior. They’re also more likely to stay in school and excel academically.

Right now the ensemble’s biggest need is funds to purchase additional marimbas and to maintain the two they already have. All those hours of practice take a toll on the instruments, and they are in need of professional repairs. A monthly gift of $33 would help the Marimba Ensemble at San Gabriel repair and maintain their marimbas and mallets.