This past weekend had one of those "dream come true" moments for me. Allow me to take a trip down memory lane...

2001: At the recommendation of my first percussion teacher, I began listening to recordings of Keiko Abe—I still remember my excitement of pressing play on her Marimba Fantasy and Fantastic Marimba CDs (I never could keep track of which title corresponded with which tracks for fairly obvious reasons). I was blown away by her massive sound on her five octave Yamaha marimba—still the "perfect" marimba sound I have in my ear to this day.

Circa 2002 or 2003: I learned a couple of Keiko Abe's pieces, including Prism, which became one of my favorite marimba pieces, especially considering it fit on my 4.3 octave marimba. I remember performing Dream of the Cherry Blossoms on my high school's talent show (and winning!) and performing Prism on my high school senior night.

2004: I won the Greater Richmond Youth Wind Ensemble concerto competition and got to perform Paul Creston's Concertino for Marimba. It was my first concerto experience, and I was hooked.

2004: I received a DVD of the University of North Texas performing Prism Rhapsody II under the baton of Eugene Corporon with Keiko Abe and Mark Ford playing the solo marimba parts. This was the first professional video recording of Keiko Abe (that I know of anyway) ever produced, and it was probably the biggest influence in my decision to attend the University of North Texas. Prism Rhapsody II became one of my favorite pieces, and I dreamed of hearing Keiko Abe perform it...furthermore, I dreamed of performing it myself!

2005: I began school at UNT and...

2006: Keiko Abe came to UNT! I was so fortunate to get to play Memories of the Seashore in her masterclass, which is still one of my most fond musical memories to this day. The North Texas Wind Symphony did an entire concert of percussion concerti (two performances at UNT and one at PASIC in Austin—all three of which I attended), which included Prism Rhapsody II (along with Russell Peck's The Glory and the Grandeur, which quickly became another of my favorite pieces—but that's another blog post).

A very young Benjamin with Keiko Abe after performing in her masterclass at the University of North Texas

2007: I met Kate Vorel for the first time. I remember seeing her perform (Keiko Abe's Variations on Japanese Children's Songs) and being blown away by her playing, even at a young age. Kate became one of my best friends and consequently one of my largest musical influences.

2010: I won the University of Illinois concerto competition with two friends—Akira Robles and Andy Miller—performing Russell Peck's The Glory and the Grandeur. My second concerto experience, and my first experience playing a concerto with others (as a chamber music lover, this was fantastic). We were lucky enough to get two performances: one with the wind ensemble and one with the orchestra at the University of Illinois.

2012: Complete technical overhaul, changing to traditional grip in my quest for my "perfect" marimba sound. (That's yet another blog post.) I had to go back to taking baby steps, which was frustrating, but it was so rewarding to finally sound like "me" on the instrument.

2015: I was asked to give two performances of a concerto at FAU, and I chose Prism Rhapsody (for solo marimba). I sort of half dared Kate Vorel to come play the second part of the duo version of the concerto with me on one of the performances. Kate being one of the few people in the world as bold as me, she accepted the challenge and flew out for the second performance!

So there you have it: Around 15 years in the making, I finally got to perform Prism Rhapsody II with one of my favorite musicians in the world. It was an incredible experience, and I hope for many more performances with Kate in years to come...

AuthorBenjamin Charles