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Ensemble creates gorgeous tapestry of music

Join us at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 17, when young people from Chicago perform a gorgeous tapestry of Mexican and Caribbean melodies and classical pieces — lush sounds of marimbas and Latin percussion creating an unforgettable musical fiesta.

The Chicago Marimba Ensemble concert will be held at the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts, as part of the Summer Concert Series.

It sounds like a plot from a film from Hollywood’s Golden Age: a priest stands up for young people in his parish and gives them hope through musical expression. But it’s not just a movie; it’s a true story that resonated throughout the Pagosa community when this group performed here six years ago. It resonated because of the ensemble’s exhilarating music and the profoundly meaningful work of its founder.

In Chicago’s Back of the Yards community — where streets are carved up by gangs, and violence is prevalent — inspiring young people through the arts takes on huge significance. Father Bruce Wellems, a native of New Mexico, is the founder of the Chicago Marimba Ensemble, a group comprised of Mexican-American youth living in a very challenging community. An extraordinary exemplar of social service, Wellems brought the marimba into his church in 1990 and made it an integral part of Sunday Mass.

Wellems is dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of young people, through music. His marimba programs at the Holy Cross Church and Immaculate of Heart Parish in Chicago have involved hundreds of students over the past two decades. The current team of seven “marimbistas,” ages 13-23, have worked together for several years, with the older players teaching the younger ones. This rare performance is part of the group’s cross-country tour. Most of the past participants go on to college and professional careers. Many return to guide younger students in the art of marimba playing.

Wellems first became aware of the potential of the marimba while he was a seminarian in Guatemala.

“In Guatemala the marimba is considered a sacred instrument; for the Mayan Indians each key has a sacred sound,” he says. His inspiration came as a result of a dramatic experience.

“I was in Guatemala in a small village on lake,” Wellems recalls. “This was a village that was very poor, full of malaria, oppressed, no doctor, no electricity, with about 75 families. The priest came to say Mass only once a year. We got there by canoe — that’s how remote this was. They had just brought the campesinos down from a farm to hear the Mass. It was at night and the priest was saying Mass in a small chapel when the army came. It scared the heck out of me. The priest was used to it, but I was just visiting and I had never seen 16 year-olds with automatic weapons. I was afraid we were going to all get killed. When the army left at about eleven o’clock at night these kids brought out the marimbas. They started playing and it was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. They played until about two in the morning, the moon came out and it was an extremely powerful moment in my life. I thought, “Oh thank God,” he said.

Hearing the joyous music of the Chicago Marimba Ensemble is to experience the sounds of hope.

Advanced tickets for $18 can be purchased online at or by calling 731-SHOW (7469). Tickets at the door are $22.

The PSCA Summer Concert Series is a collaboration between the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts and Elation Center for the Arts. Here’s the lineup for the remainder of the series:

July 23 — Country Joe McDonald. Legendary Woodstock icon performs his Woody Guthrie Tribute.

July 24 — Country Joe McDonald. Legendary Woodstock icon sings his great songs of the 60s.

July 31 — Andrew Dahl-Bredine. Intoxicating melodies from Brazil, Spain and Africa, and engaging original songs.

Aug. 7 —Carla Roberts and Paul Roberts. A World of Music with multi-instrumentalists performing music from around the globe, with special guests Tiffany and Matthew Lowell Brunson.

Aug. 14 —

Jessica Peterson. “Cool to Caliente.” Flute music of the Americas accompanied by pianists Harvey Schwartz and Sally Neel.

Aug. 21 — Jeff Scroggins and Colorado High Energy. High mountain bluegrass with award-winning musicians.

Aug. 28 — Cherise Lukow. A gifted opera starlet conveys emotions with rare artistic beauty.

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