Penn State student's marimba skills show talent, dedication

September 15, 2009

University Park, Pa. -- Using four mallets, high energy, dedication and natural talent, Penn State student Brian Durocher's performance of Joseph Schwantner's "Velocities" on the marimba was honored at the 2009 Undergraduate Exhibition Awards. Judges recognized the music education major's skills by presenting him with the Phi Kappa Phi Excellence for Juniors award.

Durocher, a native of Westland, Mich., has been a percussionist since the fifth grade. His high school drum instructor, Penn State graduate Chuck Ricotta, helped turn Durocher into a devoted percussionist. Now, at Penn State, Durocher's life is music -- he studies it and belongs to various concert bands on campus, and all of his roommates also are fervent musicians.

As a music education major, Durocher has learned how to play multiple instruments: piano, strings, brass and woodwinds. But for the spring exhibition, he chose to play the marimba, a large instrument that looks like a xylophone but has a wider range of octaves with bigger keys. Durocher selected "Velocities" because it is a more challenging piece.

"The work was chosen both for its technical aspects and the compositional elements, such as the juxtaposition of whole-tone and atonal sections and dynamic extremes over a short period of time," the senior said. "The composer also includes an interesting effect, which involves playing with the handles of the mallets to produce a different tone quality in some of the more 'mysterious' sections."

Durocher, who spent two hours a day for several months working on "Velocities," said he had never performed the piece before but knew it would be visually impressive, showing off how much time he practiced it.

"The piece he performed is one of the most difficult for the marimba -- it takes a lot of stamina," said professor Dan Armstrong, director of percussion studies at Penn State. "Brian is dedicated to his major, his instruments and practicing."

Armstrong also taught Durocher's high school percussion instructor, Ricotta, at Penn State and refers to Durocher as his "grand-student." Because Armstrong knew Ricotta's work, he had certain expectations of Durocher's skills, but added that the senior is very talented and his passion for music is evident, which just enhances his abilities. Armstrong credits the work of adjunct teacher of the four-mallet marimba, Giff Howarth, as being essential in Durocher's development as a marimbist.

  • Durocher on the marimba

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated November 18, 2010