A rare breed of musicians were spotted in action this week at Palm Beach Atlantic University during the MalletLab Summer Intensive music camp.
The group of young percussionists -- nearly 50 of them -- were getting schooled on the art of playing mallet instruments like marimbas and vibraphones by leading national and international experts in their field.
“The camp is for mallet players,” said Drew Tucker, MalletLab’s artistic director. “It’s a relatively rare discipline so this is an opportunity for them to be around like-minded people, to learn and be able to excel.”
Mallets, which resemble long drum sticks with puffy heads made from materials such as yarn, cord, felt, wood or plastic, are used to beat or strike the instruments to produce a range of melodic sounds.
“The educators and faculty that we bring in are from all over the world – one’s from Australia – and others from all over the country as well,” said Tucker. “We bring them in with different perspectives and backgrounds.”
Faculty members include Adam Tan, a percussionist and marimbist from Perth, Australia; Danny Gutierrez of Stryke and Blue Stars bands; Mark Ford, a marimba artist and coordinator of percussion at University of North Texas, and Warren Wolf of the SF Jazz Collective.
Xylophones are perhaps the most popular kind of mallet percussion instrument, but in addition to marimbas and vibraphones, the grouping also includes glockenspiels, Tucker explained.
“You probably hear them more often than you think,” he said. “Most people’s iPhone ringtones are marimbas. A lot of jazz [music] uses these instruments and at the back of an orchestra you’ll probably see all of them or some combination of them.”
This is the second year of MalletLab, said Tucker who organized the specialty training camp featuring the slew of Master Class speakers with operations director Eric Rucker. Last year the duo launched the music summer camp with a smaller group at the Arts Garage visual and performing arts center in Delray Beach.
“We were not even half this size, but word kind of just spread,” Tucker noted.
The 2018 MalletLab class is not only larger but members now hail from three countries – the U.S., China and Argentina.
During the week’s programming, the students get to practice their craft during training sessions with the instruments and attend Master Class lectures and demonstrations conducted by the faculty experts, including Tucker and Rucker. The group also performs a concert at the end of the program.
Hialeah resident Daniela Gonzalez, a 2018 cast member of the Stryke Percussion 2 band, is among this year’s MalletLab participants. She’d learned of the music camp through instructors and friends and thought it sounded interested enough to sign up.
“It’s going good, better than I thought,” said Gonzalez Tuesday during a practice break, noting she’s enjoying bonding with fellow musicians and learning from experts like Tan, a YouTube sensation. It’s really cool.”
“I get to learn from and hang out with the big names in the industry,” said Nick McConnaughey, an educator and composer from Fort Myers, of his MalletLab experience. “It’s eye-opening.”
MalletLab is among a growing list of musical and theatrical groups that call PBA their home during the summer for educational sessions, training camps, rehearsals and recitals. The other groups hosting events between May and August within the University’s School of Music and Fine Arts, DeSantis Family Chapel and Fern Street Theatre facilities include Children’s Musical Theatre, Robert Sharon Chorale and Palm Beach Chamber Music.
While this may be MalletLab’s first stint at PBA, the group has so enjoyed the University’s music school facilities, its helpful staff and central location, that it won’t be its last, Tucker said.
“It’s been going great,” he said. “For sure, I’d like to lock in our next year’s week now.”