When band becomes an option for students at the middle and high school level, most opt for instruments like the flute or oboe.
But not Central Kitsap High School senior Andrew Samuelson.
For Samuelson, a percussionist, there’s nothing like the marimba.
Samuelson, 17, discovered the large instrument early in his high school career while in “the pit” during a band performance. An upperclassman was playing the instrument when he first heard it.
“I was totally fascinated by the sound,” the senior said. “It has such a range to it.”
The instrument bares a small resemblance to the xylophone, but sounds much deeper. When struck with mallets, it produces varying tones. It is also much more expensive to replace than other instruments, with a single key costing upward of $500 to fix if broken.
Samuelson was recently selected to participate in the state competition for solo and ensemble in Ellensburg at the end of the month. He won for the Timpani division as well as a first alternate position for mallets.
“The marimba is really my passion,” said Samuelson, who also plays the drums, Timpani and a little bit of piano. “I just thought it sounded so great. A lot of people don’t know what it is.”
After hearing its sound and falling in love with the music that could be produced on it, Samuelson started taking lessons in 2010 with a private instructor. He quickly became enthralled with YouTube videos showcasing how to play the instrument.
It was then that he knew he had to learn to play. So, his parents signed him up for private lessons. He also owns a marimba that he can practice on regularly at home in addition to the five-octave one at school.
Once a week he meets with instructor Amy Putnam, who received her Master of Music in 1996 from The Juilliard School.
He quickly learned that he had to practice if his parents were going to continue paying for the lessons, he said.
Now, he estimates he spends at least four hours a week perfecting his skills, and with a state-level competition coming up, Samuelson expects that may increase.
“I think I should probably practice more,” he joked.
Several experiences, including going to state and auditioning for honor bands, cemented his thoughts on going to college for music education.
“We’re very proud of him,” said Julie Samuelson, his mother. “I think Andrew found his niche. We’ve just seen him blossom.”
So far, Samuelson has auditioned for Central Washington University and Liberty University in hopes of pursuing his love of music.
He plans to go on to be a band director “like Mr. Woods,” who is his current CK High instrumental music director.
Every year, Woods said he has a few students who pick up the marimba fairly well. They’ll usually have an older peer — like Samuleson did—who coaches them along the way before they leave the high school. But, in addition to peer mentoring, some are just naturally prone to picking it up quickly, Woods said.
“Andrew’s particularly good at mallet instruments,” said Woods. “But he’s very well rounded on percussion.”
While percussion consists learning instruments such as the triangle, snare drum, Timpani and others, Woods said Samuelson has never let the task seem daunting.
“It’s been easy because he works hard and he’s very receptive to comments and criticism and taking it in,” said Woods. “As soon as he got on the instrument he picked it up really quickly.”
In his current marimba repertoire, Samuelson said he knows about four songs. One is a concerto piece, which is 20-minutes long. While it takes work — sometimes he’s got four mallets to contend with for some pieces — the senior said it is his favorite instrument by far.
“It’s such a pleasure to play this thing,” he said. “I’m so happy I’m able to. It’s fantastic.”