2010-09-16 / News

Island percussionist brings marimba to Jamestown

By Cindy Cingone

Island percussionist Aaron Cote plays his marimba. Photo by Cindy Cingone Island percussionist Aaron Cote plays his marimba. Photo by Cindy Cingone Aaron Cote left Jamestown to gain experience in the music world. Now, he said, he wants to bring everything he’s learned about percussion music – and then some – back to the island.

“I am probably one of the first percussion artists to bring the marimba to Jamestown,” he said. “I want our community to have the opportunity to hear this amazing instrument.”

The marimba is a percussion instrument with bars, usually made of rosewood. Its unique, rich sound is produced through a system of mallets and resonators.

Its keys are arranged much like those of a piano and, like a piano, the musician can accompany himself playing with multiple mallets in each hand. Many melodic instruments can only play one note at a time, which further makes the marimba exceptional, Cote said.

The instrument’s deep primitive roots have been immersed in both African and Latin American cultures for thousands of years. In contrast, the American marimba pales in comparison as its roots date back a mere 102 years.

“American mallet instruments were instrumental in raising folks out of the Great Depression through the upbeat influence of ragtime,” Cote said. “The marimba has a distinct sound. It’s mesmerizing, uplifting, mysteri- ous, playful, soulful, it resonates and has a very smooth, organic air. I’ve got a lot to say with one instrument.”

Cote recently graduated from the University of Illinois with a Master’s degree in music performance. He earned a B.S. from Butler University in Indianapolis.

Born and raised in Jamestown, Cote’s interest in percussion started as far back as he can remember. He used to sit in the back seat of his parents’ car, hear the car radio and play along, pretending his knees were drums. He could also play songs by ear on the piano, which convinced his parents to enroll him in piano lessons.

After expressing an interest in drums, Cote received his first drum pad, sticks and percussion lessons for his 10th birthday.

His first band director was Chris Ashton, he said.

“Chris always pushed me to a new level,” Cote said. “Chris had high expectations for me. He brought me to the Jamestown Community Band and motivated me to try out for the All State Music competition.”

Cote won an award the first year and participated every year after that. It was at this point in his life that he realized he had a future and a career in percussion music.

Chris Ashton died when Cote was only 15. But his memory continues to be an inspiration to him, Cote said.

A life-changing career event came during Cote’s junior year in high school, when he was guided by some local music professionals who took an interest in his talent. They arranged for him to receive a lesson from Cleveland Symphony timpanist Paul Yancich, who suggested a list of schools for his future.

The introduction was influential in helping Cote expand his musical horizons – and to leave Rhode Island to gain experience in the music field.

“What matters most to a music student are individual lessons with a professional instructor,” Cote said. “You pick a school based on the teacher, not the school’s reputation or monetary value.”

Cote chose to study at Butler University with Jon Crabiel, a man who was a role model in every possible way, he said.

To be admitted to the university, Cote said, he was required to show proficiency in four categories: Timpany, drum set, mallets and snare drum.

After finishing his studies at Butler, Cote earned a teaching assistant position at the University of Illinois, studying with Ricardo Flores and renowned marimba pioneer, William Moersch.

Cote once again made a career changing decision recently, turning down a full scholarship for his doctorate of musical arts studies. Instead, he decided to return to Jamestown to fulfill a current dream.

“Music is sacred,” he said. “I want to experiment with music, connecting to its depth and letting this art form speak to me. I want to find the deeper meaning of what I’ve already learned, and especially to bring my experiences back to Rhode Island. As an artist and an educator, I hope to share my wealth of percussion music with my home community.”

Cote hopes to give lessons and perform at schools, concerts, fundraisers and other events. For more information, contact Cote at 662-2174, email cotepercussion@ hotmail.com or become a fan of CotePercussion on Facebook.

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