Strings Music Festival: Everything’s (not) a xylophone |

Strings Music Festival: Everything’s (not) a xylophone

Ali Mignone
Yekwon Sunwoo, the 2017 Cliburn Competition gold medalist, will perform in a solo piano recital at Strings at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 19. Tickets are available at
Ralph Lauer
Upcoming events:
  • Friday, July 14 – Mandy Harvey (jazz and blues)
  • Saturday, July 15 – Kitchen & Garden Tour (Strings fundraiser)
  • Saturday, July 15 – Yoga and Bluegrass Music (in Strings Park)
  • Saturday, July 15 – Ben Sollee & Kentucky Native (blues, bluegrass)
  • Tuesday, July 18 – Jeff & Paige (youth)
  • Wednesday, July 19 – Cliburn Gold Medalist (classical)
  • Thursday, July 20 – Music on the Green: C Street Brass (free, at the Botanic Park)
  • Friday, July 21  – Mary Chapin Carpenter (country)
  • Saturday, July 22 – Yoga and Classical Music (in Strings Park)
  • Saturday, July 22 – 30th Anniversary Concert (classical)
Tickets available at 970-879-5056 and  

The percussion setup for the Celebrate America! concert on July 1 sprawled across the entire width of the Strings Music Festival stage and was two or three instruments deep in places. If you believe my notes, there were at least 18 separate instruments in the percussion line, including four timpani and five xylophones.

To me, any instrument with graduated rectangles that each make a different note in the scale when hit with a little stick is called a xylophone. As in, “roll the tall metal xylophone over here so we can plug it in” and “why is this giant wooden xylophone so awkward” and “I can’t believe this tiny metal xylophone weighs 50 pounds and sits on a wobbly hotel suitcase stand.”

Apparently, this is not exactly right. And here’s where we discover that I am a hack, and my stage manager notes are not useful historic instrumentation information.

The xylophone is a specific instrument as well as a general type of instrument with tuned, graduated keys played by being hit with a mallet. But percussionists like to be able to ask the stage manager to move the glockenspiel without getting a blank look in return. Plus, saying “little, metal, strangely heavy xylophone” isn’t nearly as fun as saying “glockenspiel.”

So, join me on a brief tour of “percussion idiophones” — as they’re called by the Hornbostel-Sachs instrument classification system — the majority of which are not to be called xylophones by the stage manager when she’s talking to the percussionists, even though they are, in a general sense, xylophones.

Bells or Glockenspiel

The orchestra bells are also called concert bells or the glockenspiel. At 2 1/2 feet long, they look like the xylophone picture at “X” in every alphabet picture book ever made. The bells have 2 1/2 octaves of tuned metal bars and come in a carrying case. They weigh between 35 and 50 pounds, which is kind of a bummer when you have to lift them from the floor onto a stand to be played.


The vibraphone (vibes) is about 3 1/2 feet long and has three octaves of tuned metal bars which sit on a waist-high stand fitted with a motorized, spinning shaft that creates resonance and vibrato. It also has a pedal and an electrical cord that always seems too short to reach the plug I need it to reach, no matter where I place the vibes.


The marimba has five octaves of graduated, wooden keys that sit atop graduated, metal tubes, all on a stand about waist high. When I first saw the marimba, I estimated it at 8 feet long and 200 pounds. When I helped my colleagues lift it off the stage for storage, it grew to 20 feet and 800 pounds of wooden-keyed, metal-tubed, no-hand-holds awkwardness.

Fortunately for storage purposes, the marimba breaks down into many smaller pieces. Unfortunately for musical purposes, the person making the marimba into many smaller pieces is me.


The (actual) xylophone is 4 1/2 feet long and has 3 1/2 octaves of graduated bars made from either wood, metal, or a composite material, sitting over small, graduated metal pipes on a waist-high stand. If the keys are wooden, then it looks like a mini marimba. If they’re metal, it looks like either a giant glockenspiel or a vibraphone without an electrical cord.

After describing that, I feel more justified in my original premise that everything’s a xylophone. Now, if only I could get percussionists to agree with me.

Ali Mignone is the stage manager for Strings Music Festival, among other things. When she’s not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley and blogging at

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