Percussionist Simon Boyar leads the concert band at Steamboat Springs High School on Wednesday morning. Boyar wrote a piece for the band and will perform with them in spring.

Photo by John F. Russell

Percussionist Simon Boyar leads the concert band at Steamboat Springs High School on Wednesday morning. Boyar wrote a piece for the band and will perform with them in spring.

Marimba player returns to teach Steamboat student bands

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Percussionist Simon Boyar plays with the band at the Steamboat Springs High School on Wednesday morning. Boyar wrote a piece for the band to perform in spring.

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Percussionist Simon Boyar leads the band at the Steamboat Springs High School on Wednesday morning.

— On Wednesday morning, the 53 members of the Steamboat Springs High School Concert Band watched the tick of the baton in front of them. As Simon Boyar tapped out the beat, the saxophones bleated and the trumpets wailed, trying to keep up with the bouncing rhythm.

“Use more air,” Boyar told the band. “Just play more. Just kill it. Break the instruments. No, actually, don’t break the instruments.”

Wednesday marked the first time the students had laid eyes on the piece, called “Springs.” In fact, it was the first time any ensemble had played it, because Boyar, a professional marimba player from New York City, wrote it specifically for the concert band of Steamboat Springs High School ninth- through 11th-graders.

The practice session Wed­nes­day was a part of Boyar’s second visit to Steamboat Springs with the Strings School Days program.

In conjunction with the Strings Music Festival, the program brings Boyar to Routt County for a yearlong musical outreach program culminating with a concert in May.

His first visit May 2010 involved an introduction of himself and the marimba, an 8-foot, xylophone-like percussion instrument.

He returned this week to present 10 ensembles at Steam­boat Springs schools and Christ­ian Heritage School with original pieces he wrote for each group. The ensembles have this week to learn the pieces from Boyar and will practice them with their directors until Boyar returns in May.

“You have four months to turn this into something,” Boyar told the concert band about the “Springs” piece, which began to show signs of lively funk and jazz as the end of rehearsal neared. “You’re the ones responsible to show everyone this piece for the first time. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s also a lot of fun.”

Flutist Garrison Osteen said the piece was challenging, with quick note runs and flourishes. But he said working with Boyar to learn the music was a rare experience.

“It’s cool to learn music from the person who wrote it,” Osteen said. “Usually, we’re playing music from someone who died a long time ago, and we have no idea how they wanted it to sound.”

Band director Jim Knapp worked to secure the school a marimba for the program, an expense for which he still is soliciting donations.

The students also will be left with the memories of learning fresh, original music from a classically trained musician from New York whose concept of music is centered on the love of common rhythms and expression.

He said the realm of instrumental music has been marginalized by a culture of elitism.

“This is not about the five or six students here that are going to go on to be professional musicians — they’d do that whether I was here or not,” Boyar said. “This is about the kid in the back who just loves doing this.

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