How Rattletree School of Marimba is growing its influence in Austin

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Husband and wife Joel and Rakefet Laviolette met on online dating service OkCupid. Now the founders and instructors at Rattletree School of Marimba are shooting arrows of their own.

Through educating their pupils on traditional southern African music and incubating bands, the Laviolettes are aiming to cultivate a love within the community for the marimba.

“It’s the power of this music,” Joel said. “It is a virus. It’s a beautiful, beautiful virus. … You get hooked.”

The Laviolettes opened Rattletree School of Marimba in January 2013. Prior to that, Joel had been providing lessons out of his Austin home. Earlier this year the school moved to a larger space down the street.

“The business has grown organically over the years as more and more people hear the student bands and want to learn to play marimba,” Rakefet said. “One of the best things about this music is that people of all ages and musical skill levels can be playing a song together in about five minutes.”

At Rattletree’s South Austin space, students gather as bands and play traditional Zimbabwean marimba music. The instrument, much like a xylophone, is played by striking keys with a pair of mallets.

How Rattletree School of Marimba is growing its influence in Austin

Co-owner Rakefet Laviolette (background) has taught marimba for three years. (via JJ Velasquez/Community Impact Newspaper)

Rattletree School of Marimba offers marimba classes for adults and children in addition to being an incubator for marimba bands—students join bands after taking introductory lessons—and offers team-building exercises.

No musical experience is needed to begin a class. In fact, Rakefet said she did not have a musical inclination when she began learning from Joel. Within a few minutes she was able to play along.

The low learning curve and the business’s collaborative nature heightens Rattletree’s appeal as a post-workday activity for many of the school’s students, Rakefet said.

“Students begin with the Intro to African Marimba class and quickly transition into bands,” Rakefet said. “The community around the vibrant, high-energy music is growing steadily.”

Joel, who has traveled to Zimbabwe to study the country’s traditional music, has a band called Rattletree that precedes the school’s existence. Joel built all of the school’s marimbas by hand and said he decided to become a musician at a young age.

He has studied the traditional Zimbabwean instrument the mbira since the 1990s.

Karen Green, who played in Joel’s band in the late 2000s and recently returned to the marimba band fold, said she is not surprised to see his persistence pay off.

“It’s a business model that started from a dream and someone who had a lot of expertise [in the subject]and has been their livelihood,” Green said. “It feels like it’s a stable livelihood for [the Laviolettes].”


What is a marimba?

• A percussion instrument with wooden keys that are struck by mallets
• Originated in southern Africa
• The national instrument of Guatemala (via JJ Velasquez/Community Impact Newspaper)

What is a marimba?

  • A percussion instrument with wooden keys that are struck by mallets
  • Originated in southern Africa
  • The national instrument of Guatemala
Did you know?

The original iPhone ringtone was an audio file of a marimba.

Rattletree School of Marimba
2401 Thornton Road,
Unit 3, Austin
512-417-2041
www.learnmarimba.com

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JJ Velasquez
The Central Austin editor since 2016, JJ covers city government and other topics of community interest—when he's not editing the work of his prolific writers. He began his tenure at Community Impact Newspaper as the reporter for its San Marcos | Buda | Kyle edition covering local government and public education. The Laredo, Texas native is also a web developer whose mission is to make the internet a friendly place for finding objective and engaging news content.
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