When we avoid an unfortunate incident or we need a little luck, some of us say, “Knock on wood,” and we tap a piece of wood or our heads if wood cannot be found nearby.

This old tradition stems from the belief that friendly spirits lived in trees/wood and occasionally needed to be acknowledged to bring good luck and protection for the knocker. Whether this knocking on living or felled trees for luck resulted in the discovery that a hollow log can make a variety of sounds is plausible.

More than 400 years ago, in Africa and Central America, people simultaneously created a musical instrument we now call the marimba which in many ways resembled the sound of tapping a hollow log. Composed of a series of various sized, wooden slats held over sounding tubes of different lengths, the marimba is like a xylophone. The rosewood “keys” are carved to various notes in the musical scale and when stuck with the mallet they produce a warm and mellow tone.

For 20 years, the Naperville Municipal Band (NMB) percussion section played a three-octave, 1920, model A, No. 352 Deagan marimba owned by Dorothy Goodge Keller. Dorothy was encouraged to play the marimba by her music teacher and then NMB Director Elmer Koerner in 1932. She received the Deagan marimba in 1933 as a graduation gift.

Besides playing in the NMB (1936-1947), Dorothy played for church and school recitals. Often her daughter, Julie, accompanied with her own smaller marimba. Dorothy, like many dedicated marimba players, wrapped her rubber-ball-tipped mallets with various thicknesses and lengthens of yarn in order to produce a range of tones.  She was adept at holding two mallets per hand in order to play four notes at once. In the early 1940s, Dorothy declined a European touring contract with the marimba virtuoso, Clair Omar Musser whose all-marimba orchestras set the standard of excellence for marimba players.

Dorothy’s marimba was completely overhauled in 1988 and was played by members of the percussion session of the NMB from 1988 to 2018. In 2018, a larger, five-octave marimba was purchased by the band and the 1920 Deagan marimba returned to the Keller family.

A special concert is being planned for the 2019 concert season to welcome the new marimba to the NMB. With every note, as the mallet “knocks” the wooden keys of both of these marimbas, Naperville gets a little more joy and comfort. Lucky us!


NMB Director Ron Keller

Editor’s Note / Around since 1859, the Naperville Municipal Band, now 90 musicians, is set to perform next in the Community Concert Center at 1PM on Sun., September 30, when Century Walk dedicates the cornerstone for the Laughing Lincoln sculpture in Central Park. (Note: A special section on the lawn with admission will be cordoned off for the Laughing Lincoln Jubilee fundraiser to benefit Century Walk. Hours are 1-5PM. )

Then at 3PM on Sun., November 11, Veterans Day, the Naperville Municipal Band will perform its Fall Concert at Wentz Concert Hall.

The Laughing Lincoln sculpture unveiling is slated for Sun., December 2. The Lt. Guard Band will play at 2PM at The Wentz, followed at 5PM by the full Naperville Municipal Band, at Naperville Concert Center in Central Park.

2019 Performance Dates

The Annual Winter Concert is set for 3PM on Sun., February 17, 2019 at Wentz Hall.

The Annual Spring Concert will begin at 3PM Sun., April 14, 2019, also at Wentz Hall.

Then the outdoor Summer Concert Season begins again at 7:30PM on eleven Thursday evenings in Central Park, June 8 through mid-August.

Just about anyone familiar with Ron Keller knows the history of his mother’s influence on his love for music, as she always nurtured his commitment, helping him develop life skills and his passion for music. Since 1966, Keller has been director of the Naperville Municipal Band.

Concerts are free of charge and open to the public. For more info, visit www.napervilleband.org.