Gordon Stout, professor of music performance at Ithaca College, will be inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in November.
Sara Webb: What’s the difference between a xylophone and a marimba?
Gordon Stout: A xylophone is like a piccolo marimba. The flute has a certain range and size, and the piccolo is a very, very small flute in essence. So a xylophone is a smaller marimba, in layman’s terms.
SW: How did you come to choose the marimba?
GS: My parents are both professional musicians, and at the time my father was the professor of French horn at the University of Michigan. The story goes that he took me out to the school of music at the University of Michigan and we went around to the different studios. When I met the marimba teacher, I chose the marimba.
SW: Can you play other instruments?
GS: I play all the percussion instruments — timpani, snare drum and xylophone because I teach all those instruments. Marimba has always been my specialty and the thing that I love to do the most. That was my very first percussion instrument. Because there is very much a similarity with piano in terms of the white keys and the black keys, marimba you have the same thing. There are the white keys and the black keys, they’re just not different colors, so it was an easy transition to make to marimba having studied piano because the keys are set up in the same way.
SW: Can you tell me about your piece “Two Mexican Dances?”
GS: I was a junior in college at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and my composition teacher was Warren Benson. Warren was the very first professor of percussion here at Ithaca College and later began teaching composition at the Eastman School of Music. So I wrote a piece that was part of a collection, and he said, ‘No, this one piece doesn’t really fit stylistically in the context of the other pieces that it is grouped with. So why don’t you take that piece out of the collection and write another piece in a similar style and call it ‘Two Mexican Dances?’”
SW: So this is a world-famous piece?
GS: Somebody, somewhere in the world is performing it in concert right now. It’s like a rite of passage, in a way, for marimba players to play this piece. It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because no composer is going to complain that 30-some years later people are still playing his music regularly. And it still sells more than 300 copies a year, more than any of my other pieces. So that’s fabulous of course. And it’s kind of a curse in that sometimes people don’t get to know my newer music, which I like even better. They all know the “Mexican Dances,” and then they go on and they do other things rather than study my newer compositions.