Arts and Entertainment

Marimba project helps youth in the Bahamas

Island teacher Paul Meehan teaches Bahamian students to play the marimba. - Photo courtesy of Barbara Bolles
Island teacher Paul Meehan teaches Bahamian students to play the marimba.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Barbara Bolles

Islander Barbara Bolles recently returned from a trip to the Bahamas. But unlike most tourists to the sunny destination, Bolles went to work hard and make music.

The Bahamas Marimba Project, or “Bahamarimba” project as Bolles likes to call it, taught young Bahamians on Harbour Island and Eleuthera how to make and play marimbas.

“As a result of the ‘Bahamarimba’ project, six alto marimbas now exist for use by children and adults on Harbour Island and Eleuthera,” Bolles said.

Stemming from the percussion family, a marimba plays a range of notes by striking tuned bars with a mallet.

The marimba project’s seeds were planted when police Sergeant Howard Pinder’s Hatchet Bay Dinner Band visited the middle school marimba group with the Odyssey Multiage Program at the Commodore Options School last year.

Pinder saw how teacher Paul Meehan instructed students on how to make and play marimbas. It inspired him to start such a project at home.

“(Pinder) could imagine kids going nuts over marimbas, playing them at festivities and at the dock to greet tourists, and just for the joy of it,” Bolles said.

The police officer from the Bahamas immediately asked Meehan for his help.

“It required two seconds of consideration and I said, ‘Yes,’” Meehan recalled.

A program was devised to start a summer after-school program in the Bahamas aimed at reaching out to youth.

“(Pinder) does this as preventive policing, believing that children engaging in positive, creative endeavors will be less likely to fall into crime later in life,” Bolles said.

Bolles came on board the project as a liaison between the Bahaman and American sides. She spent nearly a month in organizing the effort.

There was no funding for the project, but Bolles said locals pitched in for the effort.

Meehan prebuilt two marimbas on the island and transported them, disassembled, to the Bahamas in his own luggage.

“I taught them the whole process from building (two marimbas) from the start,” Meehan said. “We built a third and had all the parts cut for a fourth and fifth.”

After the first marimba was finished, Meehan said the whole effort paid off when a 14-year-old kid named Monte took up the mallets.

“We finished the first marimba and within half an hour he was jamming on the thing and playing chord parts,” Meehan said. “That night we performed for their 39th Independence Day celebration.”

“He just started playing the marimbas two hours before,” Meehan added.

Bolles hopes that the project won’t end where she left it, and that the Bainbridge Islanders will return to expand the effort.

“We could go back and build a couple baritone and bass marimbas to enrich the sound,” she said. “We’d love to take along marimba-playing youth from Bainbridge to increase the cross-cultural exchange and add to the enjoyment.”

For now, Bolles is happy to have had the experience, but has her fingers crossed that it is only the beginning.

“I’m not sure where this is headed, if anywhere, but it’s been a joyful experience participating in it,” Bolles said.

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