The Marimba Lumina was designed by the late Don Buchla, a physicist and musical instrument designer, with Joel Davel, WomenSing guest percussionist assisting as a technician during its development. The Marimba Lumina can be particularly useful for concerts requiring large numbers of percussion instruments, as it allows one person to create the sounds of several instruments during a piece. The different percussion sounds are assigned to specific octaves of the Marimba Lumina. Additionally, the mallets can be assigned their own percussion sounds. This is possible because the mallets’ design incorporates three coils that allow them to interact with one specific Marimba Lumina. 

The sounds of the Marimba Lumina are derived from samples of Joel’s acoustic marimba. In addition to the acoustic marimba’s pure tones, which come from a direct hit on the center of a key, Joel also takes samples of the sounds made when striking the edges of the keys. This comprehensive sampling allows a performer to alter the tonal quality of a note as can be done on an acoustic marimba. Notwithstanding its remarkably authentic acoustic sound, in general, Joel likes to use the Marimba Lumina for unique sounds rather than as a substitute for acoustic instruments.

There are different versions of the Marimba Lumina, but Joel expects to be playing the larger and rare version: the original curved Gold edition. There are only six Gold Marimba Luminas in the world, so our holiday concerts provide a rare opportunity to hear this impressive instrument. 

One demonstration of the Marimba Lumina’s versatility you will hear at our holiday concerts is its use in the piece “I Just Lightning”. The complete accompaniment for this piece includes a timpani, tom-toms and tubular bells. To accomplish this as a single musician, Joel will program the bottom octave of the Marimba Lumina to be the timpani, the middle octave to be the tom-toms, and the high octave to be the tubular bells. In the alternative, he can program each of his four mallets to be a different instrument. In that case, the lower of the two mallets he holds in each hand would be the timpani and the top of the two mallets in each hand would be the tom-toms and tubular bells. The beauty of the Marimba Lumina is that Joel, as a single musician, has the flexibility to layer all of these sounds.

Joel has been playing the Marimba Lumina for eighteen years. For our holiday concerts, Joel will play the Marimba Lumina in combination with acoustic percussion instruments. We are delighted that Joel also will play a solo at the concerts. Visit Joel's website to learn more about him:


Written by: Julie Skeen, Soprano I