I could not believe my good luck on Christmas Eve. I had just gotten into the car to drive home after giving kalimba lessons to two students who live in a group home. I turned on the radio and NPR was announcing a contest on Indaba Music: Record a virtual duet with Yo-Yo Ma playing Dona Nobis Pacem on cello. The winner will get to record with him in person!
I have been playing that song for years, ever since Mary Bourn of New Mexico showed me how beautiful it was on the kalimba. Later that evening, a good friend sent me an email with a link to the NPR story on the contest: "How wonderful - cello and kalimba! Mark, you know about Yo-Yo Ma - now it's time for Yo-Yo Ma to know about you!"
I jumped into the studio and worked ferociously at all the preparations for the recording of my duet with Yo-Yo Ma—with (or so I thought) plenty of time to spare in order to be able to make the Dec. 31st deadline.
And then disaster struck. A relative of my wife's became ill. By the time this crisis was resolved and I was able to get back to completing and submitting my entry to Indaba Music, I had missed the contest deadline by a mere hour. I was stunned. This story is perhaps not a little ironic for me, since Dona Nobis Pacem means "Grant us Peace."
BUT after the smoke cleared, I realized this turn of events had given me some beautiful music, two new kalimbas, and two new ideas for Kalimba Magic that I am very excited about. I will share each of these with you below.
In order to prepare myself for playing with Yo-Yo Ma on this recording, I mapped out the three different parts of Dona Nobis Pacem using KTabS. Actually, the kalimba can play two parts at once, so I actually wrote out each pairing of parts as well. You can download them below (Dona Nobis Pacem was written hundreds of years ago, so the author probably won't mind):
In order to enter the Yo-Yo Ma contest, I had to invent the F Alto. This is made by tuning each tine on the alto kalimba down by a whole step. Then I realized I could also create an F Treble by tuning each note on the D Treble (another kalimba I created by modifying the Hugh Tracey Treble kalimba), up by 1.5 steps.
And this is where it gets really interesting. In G, the usual key for the Alto and Treble, the lowest notes on the two kalimbas differ by just two whole steps. Furthermore, many notes on the G-tuned Alto and Treble overlap and are redundant. But tuning the Alto down by one step and the Treble up by 1.5 steps to convert to the key of F, results in a major 6th difference between the low notes on the two instruments and much more distinct ranges.
It is a bit early to say how these are going to come out, but I think these modifications will fulfill much untapped potential of the Alto and Treble. I will be writing music for these new instruments--and we'll just see how it goes!
Before I ship any kalimba, I always take a few minutes to check out the instrument and make fine scale adjustments. I make sure the kalimba is in tune, fix any buzzes, check the pickup, make sure the tines are lined up, etc. But I didn't spend just a few minutes on the F Alto kalimba that I was preparing for the Yo-Yo Ma recording. I kept working at it for over a week, until it felt great, played with ease and sounded truly wonderful. This experience helped me to realize what a difference a little time can make, i.e., that when I study and pore over a kalimba with love for many days, the quality of the final instrument will be noticeably enhanced.
And thus the idea of the Premium Kalimba was born. Each week I'll take one kalimba and make it FINE, i.e., as if it was to be my own. I'll polish the details until it is an instrument that I'd be happy to play at any performance or play for years on a desert island. But instead of ending up in my collection, I will offer these instruments for sale. Starting with next month's newsletter, my hope is to be able to offer four premium kalimbas.
Well, all this thinking about this contest got me thinking about contests in general for Kalimba Magic! So next month we are going to have a preliminary contest. All you have to do is suggest a contest idea for Kalimba Magic. What sort of contest do you think you would do well with? Recording cool music on the kalimba? Using the kalimba with other instruments? New music written for kalimba?
I hope to get 5 or 10 great ideas for future contests, and if I use your contest idea, I'll send you out a free CD or book of your choice. If multiple people suggest the same contest, the first one will get the prize. When we get to the actual contests beginning the month after next, winners will receive a free Hugh Tracey Kalimba!
Out of adversity comes opportunity. Yo-Yo Ma will probably never know how much he has helped Kalimba Magic.