03 March 2009


A few years back I took a class about the history of music. It was basically a class about chant, classical, and opera, none of which I'm all that into. But it was still one of the best classes I ever took in college, mostly because the teacher was really amusing. She's won dozens of awards for composition and holds a PhD in composition from the University of Chicago. She constantly traveled to attend and perform at music conventions around the world. I had kind of a big crush on her, even though she was in her mid-60's and married. She was Canadian, and after she had lived in the US for a certain period of time, she was eligible for citizenship, to which she said, "No way. I'm Canadian, honey." I like that sort of steadfastness.

On the last day of class, all the students in the class went to her apartment so we could play her instruments and she could give us an oboe demonstration. Also she fed us some finger foods and beer. Anyway, her apartment was this amazing musical playground. She had two pianos, a harpsichord, lots of wind instruments, a whole wall full of sheet music, and lots of little tchotchkes from Asia and Africa. One instrument that I totally fell in love with was something called a kalimba (also known as mbira or thumb piano). I played it for most of the night, coming up with little melodies and stuff. It's really easy to play and sounds something like a cross between tubular bells and a xylophone.

So anyway, my teacher told me that she got hers in Africa and I just assumed that Africa was the only place you could buy one. Wrong! I saw these really cheaply made ones in a store around Christmastime and it reignited that kalimba spark in me. Coincidentally, for Christmas one of my relatives got me an Amazon gift card. I bought some headphones and had a bit of money left over, so I started browsing around online. I ended up finding kalimbas on there and picked one up (along with Hungary's crowning achievement, a Rubik's cube).

So I got my kalimba today, and it's pretty spectacular. It was only $30 but it seems like it's put together really well. It's in tune, which is a plus, and the board is solid but fairly lightweight. It's extremely easy to play and it's a really good tool for coming up with melodies. Thumbs up, thumb piano!