Keiko Abe

Keiko Abe (安倍 圭子, Abe Keiko?, born April 18, 1937) is a Japanese composer and virtuoso marimba player. She has been a primary figure in the development of the marimba, in terms of expanding both technique and repertoire, and in modifying the design of the instrument itself.

Born in Tokyo, Abe began playing the marimba at the age of 12, after hearing an American missionary group from Oral Roberts University playing the first marimba ever brought to Japan. After earning degrees in composition and percussion, from Tokyo Gakugei University, she began a marimba trio that played popular music, but grew frustrated with the limited scope of the ensemble and in 1962 entered the world of contemporary classical music. playing mallet percussion with the NHK orchestra. During this period she had her own show on Japanese television, instructing schoolchildren in xylophone playing, as well as a radio show called "Good Morning Marimba". She also began her recording career with a bang, putting out 13 albums in a five-year span.

In 1963 the Yamaha Corporation sought Japanese marimba players to assist in the design of their new instruments; Keiko Abe was chosen for her original and clear ideas of the marimba sound and design, particularly her concept of how the marimba should be able to blend in ensembles, for example, moving away from the inconsistencies and lack of focus of folk percussion instruments. Her ideas for the desired sound of the instruments guided Yamaha's design, and in the 1970s began production. In addition, at her urging, the range of the new marimba was stretched from four octaves to five, which has become the standard for soloists. Abe has been closely associated with Yamaha ever since, and their first ever signature series of keyboard percussion mallets bears her name.

Her compositions, including "Michi", "Variations on Japanese Children's Songs", and "Dream of the Cherry Blossoms", have become standards of the marimba repertoire. Abe is active in promoting the development of literature for the marimba, not only by writing pieces herself, but also by commissioning works by other composers and encouraging young composers. She has added at least 70 compositions to the repertoire. Most of her pieces begin as improvisations, and are later notated.

In addition to her heavy composing, touring, and recording schedule, Abe has been a lecturer, then professor, at the Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo since 1969. She was the first woman to be inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 1993, and the first player to develop six-mallet technique. Among her former students is the noted percussionist Evelyn Glennie.

Her music is mainly published by Xebec Music Publishing and Schott, Japan.

Major works

Marimba solo
Ancient Vase
Dream of the Cherry Blossoms
Itsuki Fantasy
Little Windows
Marimba d'amore
Memories of the Seashore
Memories of the Seashore II
Tambourin Paraphrase
Three Monologues
Variations on Japanese Children's Songs
Voice of Matsuri Drums
Wind Across Mountains
Wind in the Bamboo Grove
Wind Sketch

Marimba duo
Conversation in the Forest I
Memories of the seashore II
Wind Across Mountains (Duo version)
Wind in the Bamboo Grove II
Wind Sketch II

Marimba and other instruments
Conversation in the forest I (Version for solo marimba and 3 percussionists)
The Wave: Marimba Concertino for solo marimba and 4 percussionists

Marimba and orchestra
Prism Rhapsody
Prism Rhapsody II for two marimbas and orchestra or wind ensemble