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Marimba melodies

Musician Phyllis Pegram captivates listeners with unique talent

Created date

September 21st, 2010
Listen to a selection from Phyllis' 2006 Recording: [mp3_embed blog_plyrs="2"] [caption id="attachment_14343" align="alignright" width="224" caption="Wind Crest s Phyllis Pegram has been playing the marimba for over 70 years. She has memorized more than 40 songs on the percussion instrument. (Photo courtesy of Phyllis Pegram)"][/caption] For two generations, the children in Phyllis Pegram s family have drifted off to sleep to the rich melodic sounds of her playing the marimba. Now Pegram is sharing her affection for the percussion instrument with her friends and neighbors performing solo in concerts atWind Crestin Highlands Ranch, Colo. I wouldn t call myself a professional musician, but I enjoy playing for people, says Pegram, a retired high school English and Home Economics teacher. It s nice to have people come up and tell me how much they like and appreciate my music. Since we moved in 2007, I ve performed at Wind Crest four times. A mother to five girls, less than two years apart, Pegram practiced the marimba in what little free time she had mostly evenings in the basement of their Michigan home. We had a three story house and the kids could faintly hear me playing as they fell asleep in their beds. Their favorite song was Glow Worm, but if you ve heard it before you know that it s not really bedtime music, she says.

Love at first listen

While growing up in Iowa, most kids her age were settling for traditional instruments, but Pegram was drawn to the mellow rhythmic music of the marimba. Similar in style to the xylophone, the marimba is made of various sized wooden bars placed on a frame with metal tubes or resonators mounted on the frame under each bar to amplify the sound. The wooden bars are struck with mallets made of rubber balls wound with yarn to produce a deep, rich tone. When I was a young girl our school band director took us to a regional band contest, says Pegram. Different categories of instruments were competing against each other, and I just happened to listen to a marimba presentation. I instantly loved it! Soon after, Pegram began taking lessons in Des Moines on a used marimba her high school band director gave to her. Having already learned to play piano, violin, clarinet, and drums, Pegram says learning the marimba was a simple matter of learning to do a drum roll. You have to learn how to hold multiple mallets in each hand in between certain fingers, says Pegram who plays with up to six mallets at once. You spread your thumb and index finger to spread the mallets different distances and then draw them back together.

Not miss a beat

Nearly every afternoon the sound of Pegram s 49-bar, rosewood Deagan marimba she bought over 70 years ago for a little more than $300 with a loan from her grandmother, fills up the two-bedroom apartment home she shares with her husband, Glenn. Pegram s master bedroom doubles as her music studio where she practices and stores the six-foot-long instrument. When I m preparing for a concert I play every day, says Pegram. Otherwise, I play about every other day to keep my muscles in shape. The homes here are very soundproof, so I ve never had any complaints. In fact, I ve had people ask me to leave the front door open so they can hear me play. Over the years Pegram has played for weddings, including two of her daughters weddings, church functions, as well as for friends and neighbors. She also arranges her own marimba music and estimates she has well over 40 songs memorized. When I m playing in front of an audience and I see people enjoying the marimba as much as I do it makes it all worthwhile, says Pegram. At the urging of her eldest daughter, Sheryl, in 2006 Pegram made a professional recording of her music from her home in Mesa, Ariz. The CD titled Marimba Melodies features 27 tracks with songs like Hawaiian Wedding Song, Amazing Grace, Stardust, and I m Dreaming of a White Christmas. My favorite songs on the CD are the Hawaiian ones, says Pegram. I think that kind of music just sounds beautiful when played on the marimba. Pegram says she will continue to practice and perform on her marimba as long as people enjoy hearing her play. I don t think a lot of people are familiar with the marimba, but I think it s a really fun instrument to play. It s been something I ve been able to keep up and still enjoy playing for people if they enjoy it too! Pegram sums up her love of music in a quote found on an insert of her CD: Making music helps me through the hard times, relieves everyday frustrations, celebrates the good times, and gives life greater purpose.