When one thinks of the marimba, one almost certainly imagines a very specific type of music – maybe tropical, or perhaps jazz. Classical compositions likely do not come immediately to mind, but that may no longer be the case once you hear the work of The Allan Spencer Mallet Choir.
Created by happy accident between friends Allan Spencer, Michael Downing, and Sara Basiletti, the mallet percussion group began as a composition/arrangement practice session in between classes at California State University, Fresno. When these sessions grew to impromptu concerts with hundreds of attendees, the trio transitioned themselves into an official ensemble. Taking on a host of iconic classical works in their album Saturday Morning Coffee, The Allan Spencer Mallet Choir brings a wholly unique listening experience to the genre, offering a fresh and inviting perspective in a place it is not often found.
HERE’S WHAT WE DUG MOST…
Opening with Badinerie, BWV1067, the initial impression is that the marimba is essentially music-box-ifying this work – but the reality is a bit more complex than that. Indeed, the bell-like tones of the marimba do offer a simpler sonic texture than, say, that of a violin, but it’s this specific feature that allows this piece to be heard in a new light. Different sections of the melody become highlighted, harmonic lines seem to resonate in a different way – it creates an entirely different topographical map of sound than that of the original composition.
And these features are continuously present throughout the album. In Sonata No. 11 in A Major (a piece incredibly well-suited to this arrangement), we’re treated to a dose of marimba dynamics – they are subtle, but they are effective – as well as plenty of performance intricacies that further solidify the fact that these are three musicians with an inordinate amount of talent.
In many modern presentations, the marimba is written as a “happy” instrument, but there are many instances on this album where the group explores its more melancholy side, Prelude No. 4 in E Minor being the most notable. The staccato nature of mallet percussion allows room to breathe between each note of both the main melody and the supporting instrumentation, much like that of the original piano but with a more pointed, rhythmic approach.
The bouncing, playful character of Humoresque, Op. 101, No. 7 feels like a near-perfect inclusion on this project. The work itself mirrors the innate sounds of the marimba, and as a result the group effortlessly recreates that lighthearted energy, if not even elevating it further.
We also love Italian Concerto, Bwv 971 for its cascading, unending lines of movement, as well as Flower Duet for its showcase of the gentler side of both the performers and their instruments, replicating the original vocal lines with agility and ease.
OUR FAVORITE TRACK…
Of all the tracks on this collection that seem least suited to this instrumental shift, Loch Lomond felt as though it would be high on the list. This classic Scottish melody is full of long, warm, droning notes, which is a sound the marimba is not exactly known for producing. But the trio has tackled this track with elegance, grace, and flair, breathing somber, tremolo-rich energy into this emotive piece. The melody is given movement and vibration in place of its traditional smoothness, but it retains the regality and somber flair that the original possesses. It’s a captivating take on a classic that is rarely recreated in such a unique and unexpected way.
A stunning combination of instrumental simplicity and performance complexity. The kind of work that could only be put together by a musician’s musician, and with a thorough and unquestionable understanding of theory and composition as well. These classical works on Saturday Morning Coffee shine with ingenuity in the deft hands of The Allan Spencer Mallet Choir. It’s the epitome of reimagining in a way that makes sense – the right pieces chosen, the right sections highlighted, the right musicians performing. For anyone with an appreciation of classical works taken outside of the box, there is true enjoyment abounding on Saturday Morning Coffee.
BELOW: Check out our full artist interview with Allan Spencer of The Allan Spencer Mallet Choir, listen to Saturday Morning Coffee and connect with their website and social media platforms, watch their music video, and find their booking & contact information. Please support The Allan Spencer Mallet Choir by visiting them online, and playing, downloading, and/or purchasing their music, or attending a live show! And, as always, thank you for supporting real music!
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Check out our interview with ALLAN SPENCER:
Follow, stream, download & connect with THE ALLAN SPENCER MALLET CHOIR online:
Listen to SATURDAY MORNING COFFEE by THE ALLAN SPENCER MALLET CHOIR:
Watch ALLAN SPENCER’s music video for the album THE MASTER AND THE APPRENTICE:
Booking & contact information for THE ALLAN SPENCER MALLET CHOIR:
Contact: Allan Spencer