Interview mit Kai Stensgaard

geführt von Evgeniya Kavaldzhieva
(Siehe auch: Deutsche Übersetzung)
Kai, you are a very open-minded marimba player, you play jazz, latino and classical marimba music. You also compose a lot for the marimba. What is actually the marimba for you?
The marimba is very special for me. I first saw the marimba when I started studying at the Music Conservatory, and at that time the marimba was just at the beginning of a great development from nothing to the great concert instrument we know today. At that time there were almost no pieces to play and the playing technique very poor. But I fell in love with the sound and I had an idea that the marimba one day would be a great instrument, and that I also could make my ideas, of the possibilities of the instrument, come trough.
After finishing my study at the Music Conservatory in Denmark, studies with Karen Ervin at California State University Northridge in Los Angeles and studies with L. H. Stevens, I was ready to build up my career. I was mainly playing new contemporary marimba solos, but soon I found out that playing only that type of music made the audience very small. I had to come up with a recital program that was more interesting for non musicians to listen to. At that time I started making arrangements of classical pieces and of music from the folklore tradition. I composed my first piece "Spanish Dance" with inspiration from Spanish flamenco music. I was also playing marimba, vibraphone, bells and chromatic cowbells in a rock band. We were inspired from band such as Santana and Frank Zappa. "Spanish Dance" was actually made as a solo piece, to put focus on the marimba in the rock band. I also started on improvisation and that was very new for me, because I did not learn that at the Music Conservatory. Today I don't understand why it was not a part of becoming a professional musician. Improvisation actually made me start composing for the marimba. When you are practising improvisation, suddenly you come up with something that you like, and I started to write down my ideas. Today I strongly recommend marimba players to start on improvisation as soon as possible, because it also gives you a wider understanding of the elements of music. My goal was to put together a recital program that showed the marimbas possibilities and for that I started playing, arranging and composing in different styles such as jazz, latin and folk music. I made my first trip to Guatemala and Mexico in 1984. I wanted to get inspired from the traditional music from that area. As a result from that trip I wrote my first six mallet piece called "Two Mayan Dances". Two simple songs that were easy to play with six mallets and I did not think on developing the grip at that time. The pieces worked for me as encore pieces that the audience liked a lot.
You play and compose marimba music for six mallets. Why? Do you think that the four mallet players and composers are limited in their expression? And on the other hand, is the six mallet playing flexible enough?
After playing "Two Mayan Dances" for many years I decided to develop the technique. It started because I was asked to do a recital where I was playing something from a religious mass. I was trying to come up with ideas, but I found it not possible to arrange any music from a mass. l was almost about to cancel the recital, but then I remembered the "Misa Criolla" by A. Ramires. I was looking at the Gloria part, but found that the sound was to thin. I tried with six mallets and suddenly it started working very well. Now I could play bass and cords with left hand and make a great sounding melody with my right hand. I did the recital and I could feel the music working very well. I realised that a piece like that was not possible to play without using six mallets. I started to compose for six mallets and also to build up the six mallets grip and technique. At that time I wrote my "Salsa Mexicana". Left hand is doing a piano like latin lick and the right hand is playing the melody in octaves and thirds. That gives a very big sound and also a piece like this one is not possible to play with only four mallets. I also noticed that six mallet playing was very good in some keys and very difficult in other keys, but on the other hand we also know that problem when playing with four mallets. My next step was to write a piece using the whole keyboard and not only the "white" bars. I wrote my piece "Zita" using the whole keyboard and now I have the situation that when I am starting on new compositions, I am feeling that I am missing a lot of sound, if I am composing for only four mallets. Well, to all this my conclusion is, that six mallet playing is not something that is going to make me not play with four mallets, it just adds a new dimension when playing marimba. The amount of mallets you are using, when playing marimba, effects the music you are composing. When you look back on the marimba literature you can easily see that playing two mallets creates a special style, four mallets another style and now six mallets affects the way of composing for the marimba. In my concert for marimba & orchestra "Concierto Mexicano" I am using 2, 4 and 6 mallets. Six mallet playing has its limitations in some keys, but it also gives you many new possibilities that can make the marimba an even more interesting instrument to listen to. You also have the visual effect, and that is very important for an audience, too.
Is there enough repertoire for 6 mallets?
In my method "The six mallet grip" I have a list of all the works written for six mallets. We now have more than 100 pieces!! What is enough Ė when I started playing four mallets we only had around 5 pieces written for marimba! I am always trying to develop the possibilities for six mallets. Right now I am working on a contemporary piece with a very advanced use of my six mallet grip. I am sure that in the years to come this way of playing will grow very fast, I feel a very big interest among young marimba players and six mallet playing is something that is going to be very important.
You have written your own 6 mallet method. Tell us something about it.
Yes, my method "The Six Mallet Grip" came out in the year 2008. In this method I have examined all the possibilities with my grip. My grip is based on the Stevens grip and the method takes you trough all the different stroke types and combinations of strokes I could come up with. First you go trough exercises for each hand and later in the book I combine these exercises. It shows you how to control each mallet and the control of changing the intervals. The method has more than 1200 exercises and musical examples. To make it easier to understand, I have made a video explaining everything. This video can be seen from my web page www.marimba.dk
You play quite often with Mexican Marimba players and you have written Concierto Mexicano. Can we say you like Mexican music?
Well, I like a lot of music styles. I was very lucky to be invited to "The First International Marimba Festival" in Chiapas , Mexico in 2000. Here I met a very rich marimba tradition and some of Mexico's finest marimba players. Among them Marimba Nandayapa (www.nandayapa.com). We became very close friends and have been working together with a project called "Marimbas on Tour". We did a lot of concerts together in Denmark and in Mexico. We are combining the modern marimba with the traditional marimba by mixing the sounds and music styles. In our repertoire we have traditional Mexican marimba music, arrangements of music by A. Piazolla, some of my compositions etc. To get to know the Mexican culture has inspired me very much and I have been trying to use that in my compositions. One result is "Concierto Mexicano".
What is the Marimbamboo project?
I have always been looking for ways to make the marimba more know among people. Therefore I am trying out different instrument combinations, and Marimbamboo is one of them (www.marimbamboo.dk). I think it is very important to mix the marimba with other instruments and not only think as a percussion player. We often see combinations from the percussion family, but to reach a wider audience it is important to mix with instruments that are more known. Marimbamboo is a duo with pan flute/flute and marimba. We are focusing on folklore music from all over the world. Another project is Calabash (www.calabash.dk. Here I am working together with a jazz saxophone player. Our program is classical music mixed with improvisation. When I am invited to perform at marimba festivals all over the world I often meet people that give me new ideas to try out. I have also been touring a lot with musicians from Argentina. We play folklore from Argentina and the instruments are marimba, singing, guitar and percussion.
Please tell us something about your plans for the future.
What will the next project be? I donít know, but I am always looking for interesting combinations. I am right now trying to start a latin jazz group with the marimba as an important part of the sound. For sure I will continue composing for four and six mallets. I will be touring universities and music conservatories to show my music and my six mallet grip. You are welcome to visit my web page www.marimba.dk or myspace.com/kaistensgaard. Here you can find information on my music and you can watch my videos. Please feel free to contact me on ks@marimba.dk
Thank you very much for the Interiew!
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