Sue Ford, Director 


Upcoming Performances

December 5 - Barnes and Noble Bookfair at the store at Asheville Mall  -  2:00 – 2:45 and 3:15 – 4:00

January 17 – Highland Farms in Black Mountain  -  3:00 - 4:00 pm




• The Marimba Program

The Evergreen Community Charter School Marimba Program was started in 2003 by musician and teacher Sue Ford. This afterschool program is designed to involve middle-school students in a collaborative performance community and to engage them with a range of musical techniques, traditions, rhythms, and repertoire from all over the world.

The program is divided into two parts: Level I Marimba for beginners, and EMBE (Evergreen Multicultural Beat Ensemble), for more experienced musicians. Students in the EMBE band give regular performances in the Asheville area, serving as representatives of their school.


• The Instruments and the Music

The marimba is a wooden percussion instrument with roots in African and Latin American music traditions. Its keys, played with mallets, are made of wood, and the scale extent varies from one marimba to another. All but one of Evergreen’s ten marimbas are handmade, Zimbabwean style, C-scale instruments: they range from the massive eight-note bass marimba to the highest soprano instrument. Also used in the program are handmade African-style drums and hoshos (gourd rattles traditionally played in Shona music), as well as a variety of other small percussion instruments. Students in the Marimba Program learn to play all the instruments, trading off parts in different pieces.

The music played in the Marimba Program ranges from traditional songs of Zimbabwe, Guinea, and other African countries to rhythmically complex Latin tunes to Japanese folk songs, adaptations of classical pieces, popular rock ’n’ roll standards, and original compositions by celebrity friends of the band or by the students themselves.


• Evergreen’s Marimbas and Their Stories

Students in Evergreen’s Marimba Program know the instruments by their nicknames: “Little Bass,” “Clippy,” “Blondie,” and so on. Many of the marimbas have interesting stories to tell. The three that started EMBE in 2003 were borrowed from Sue Ford’s own family band; EMBE was soon able to purchase those instruments with funds raised by performing and selling CDs. Other marimbas were given to the school: “Deagan”—EMBE’s only full-keyboard marimba (manufactured by the Deagan company, probably dating from the 1920s)—has beautiful rosewood keys. Long before it was donated to Evergreen, it belonged to two sisters who played marimba duets as a novelty act at Chautauqua in the 1940s, dressed as cowgirls. “Phish,” the twelve-key contra-bass instrument, was built by Hobey Ford with the help of an unsolicited grant from the Mockingbird Foundation, the nonprofit organization of the world-famous band Phish. EMBE’s most recently acquired marimba, “Blondie,” was made by Asheville-area craftsman Steve Kemble, using local locust wood, a sustainable hardwood—in keeping with Evergreen’s mandate for sustainability.


• The EMBE Performance Experience

Students may audition for the EMBE Marimba Band after completing a year of Level I Marimba. If they are accepted to play with the band, they are asked to sign a contract of commitment and attend afterschool rehearsals twice a week. Student musicians in EMBE take full responsibility for their participation in the band: they pack and unpack the instruments for every performance, take part in fund-raising efforts, and must maintain good grades in all their classes. They gain “service hours” at Evergreen for their work with the band.

Every year, Sue Ford sets up several performance gigs for EMBE. The band has played at many venues over the years, including music clubs (Orange Peel in Asheville, White Horse in Black Mountain); festivals (LEAF, Montford Arts Festival), conferences (the American Orff Schulwerk Association Conference, the National Children’s Music Network Conference, the North Carolina Charter School Conference, the NC State Middle School United Nations Conference, the Rotary Club Conference); and schools (Warren Wilson College, UNC-A, AB Tech, Carolina Day School). EMBE was awarded the Grand Prize and “Best School Entry” at the Asheville Holiday Parade. The band’s performances are invariably met with great enthusiasm from crowds, who cannot resist EMBE’s youthful energy and talent.

Every other year, the band records a professional-quality CD. Three CDs have been released thus far and are available for sale at performances or through Sue Ford.

The band has collaborated with many world-class musicians in its performances and recordings, including drummer Kevin Meyame, singer-songwriter Billy Jonas, percussionist River Guerguerian, trumpeter Je Widenhouse, drummer Ronnie Delerme, banjo player Akira Satake, bala master Alkaly Carmara, and mbira masters Musekiwa Chingodza and Matemai. 

• About Sue Ford

Sue Ford plays a variety of instruments in many different musical styles. She studied African xylophone music with master bala player Alkaly Carmara of Guinea. For many years, she played with a family marimba band alongside acclaimed musician River Guerguerian, and she currently performs with Asheville’s professional Zimbabwean-style marimba band Chikomo. Sue has performed professionally for more than thirty years as a singer/songwriter and instrumentalist with a variety of groups, including Womansong of Asheville. She has worked on several recording projects, including her own CD of originals, The Water Is Fine.

Sue is very active in her professional development, regularly attending music-teacher training (through the American Orff Schulwerk Association) and workshops at the Swannanoa Gathering Folk Music School. In addition to organizing and heading Evergreen’s Marimba Program, she directs the Evergreen Community Chorus, the Suzuki Violin Ensemble and mentors Evergreen’s new music teacher who is taking over the K-8 general music program.

 Sue also hosts the school’s Lunchroom Concert Series which brings performances of all types to every student attending Evergreen.

• How You Can Help

Evergreen’s Marimba Program has been tasked with raising $4,000 in 2012–13 to keep this valuable program running. EMBE is raising money through performances and CD sales, and donations are very welcome.

To find out more about the band or to make a donation, please contact Sue Ford at  


EMBE Videos