Marimba player to give free community concert tonight in Steamboat |

Marimba player to give free community concert tonight in Steamboat

Percussionist Simon Boyar performs for students from Routt County schools and the Granby area at the Strings Music Pavilion on Thursday afternoon. Boyar will host a free community concert at 7 p.m. today.
John F. Russell

If you go

What: Free community concert with marimba player Simon Boyar

When: 7 p.m. today; doors open at 6:15 p.m.

Where: Strings Music Pavilion

Cost: Free to the public

Other: Open seating on a first-come, first-served basis

— Simon Boyar doesn’t like to do things the easy way. In fact, he prefers the opposite.

Take the 27-year-old, Julliard School-educated musician’s approach to playing the marimba, for which he has developed a style that bears his name — the Boyar Method.

Never heard of the marimba? Don’t worry, Boyar is used to it.

The 8-foot-long African instrument resembles a super-sized xylophone but produces a distinctly different sound. It’s popular throughout much of the world, particularly South America, but arrived in North America only in the past 50 years, Boyar told his audience of 500-plus elementary and middle school students Thursday at Strings Music Pavilion.

Sporting baggy jeans, sneakers, a shaved head and a scruffy beard, Boyar exudes the energy of a twentysomething musician, not only in appearance but also in on-stage demeanor. And when you’re trying to get audiences excited about the marimba, that’s a good thing.

During his student performances Thursday, Boyar slid effortlessly back and forth across the stage floor from one side of the Steamboat Springs High School-owned marimba to the other, stomping his feet to accentuate the beats of the song, his head bobbing up and down and hips swaying like a rock star.

And the children loved it.

Boyar hopes his energy and approach to live performance elicits a similar reaction tonight during his free community concert at 7 p.m. at Strings Music Pavilion. The doors open at 6:15 p.m., and no tickets are needed. Seating is open and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Tonight’s audience can expect to hear classical, jazz, beat-boxing, a Frank Zappa jazz concerto, drum improvisation and elements of hip hop. And who knows, maybe some video game themes.

“It’s going to be a very immersive, intimate evening, even though I’m going to play loud and break things,” Boyar said.

But his performance is part of something bigger — a larger effort by Strings Music Festival and local school districts to make music fun and interactive. Boyar has spent the past week here, crisscrossing Northwest Colorado from Craig to Granby on field trips where he performs for and works with students. Strings’ School Days Out program started in 2007 with pianist Alpin Hong, whose recommendation led to a two-year agreement with Boyar. This year’s program will bring more than 2,000 students to Strings Music Pavilion to hear Boyar perform.

Strings officials and regional music teachers already are experiencing the program’s benefits.

Boyar will be back in January to work with band students, and then back in May 2011 to do more field trips and community concerts. The highlight may be the world premier of a song he is writing specifically to perform with local high school band students in Routt County.

“My interest is in playing,” Boyar said. “For me, one of the biggest problems in the U.S. is that music programs are being gutted.”

Although plenty of children enjoy listening to music, very few will go on to play an instrument into their adult years, he lamented. When adults don’t play musical instruments, they’re more likely to be part of the dynamic that approves of reducing the amount of musical education in school systems.

Jim Knapp, the band director at Steamboat Springs middle and high schools, said Boyar has made an important connection with students this week.

“Just through that, I’ve maybe saved one more kid from leaving the music program,” Knapp said.

“This relationship with Strings is becoming an end-of-year culminating event for our school because the kids are starting to expect it and look forward to it.”

The program works well for all sides. Strings helps children develop a love of music, which in turn might make them future concert attendees. The schools get engaging, young, supremely talented musicians to come into their classrooms and inspire students. And Boyar gets a chance to share his music, and instrument, with new audiences.

“What I’m trying to do is make the marimba more popular,” he said Thursday.

Boyar plays anything from classical to contemporary music, exhibiting his musical range with snippets of Bach and Lady GaGa. But the crowd favorite Thursday morning may have been his rendition of the theme to the Super Mario Brothers video game.

Boyar even puts his own twist on how to hold multiple mallets in each hand while playing the marimba. Instead of the most popular method — crossing the two mallet handles and grabbing a hold of them near their intersection — Boyar holds each separately with the fingers on either sides of his hand. When playing, he twists his wrists as if turning a doorknob, each small twist bringing one mallet or the other to the rosewood keys of the marimba.

Holding multiple mallets the way most other musicians do was just “too simplistic,” Boyar told students Thursday.

He also banged on a drum kit, a gong, chimes and a vibraphone. And “banging” is a verb Boyar doesn’t mind.

“I love to hit anything,” he said.

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