Malinda Willey hits first in state drumming competition

POULSBO — “Memories of the Seashore” has translated into memories that will last a lifetime for recent North Kitsap High School graduate and marimba drummer Malinda Willey.

Her perfect rendition of the Keiko Abe piece earned her first place at the Washington Music Educators Association State Solo and Ensemble Contest April 28, as she bested 22 others at Central Washington University in Ellensburg.

“Last year, I made it to state and didn’t place. This year, my goal was to get in the top three and push myself to the next level,” Willey said. “When I heard I received a score of 1 (judges rate competitors on a 1-5 scale with 1 being the highest score) from the judges, I knew I would be in the top three. They announced the third place winner and the second place winner and my name hadn’t been called yet, and then it occurred to me that I’d won.”

Despite months of anticipation, Willey said she still had trouble wrapping her head around the honor.

“When they called my name as the first place winner, I was extremely shocked and excited all at once,” she said. “Winning first place made me feel like all of the hard work paid off in some way.”

Her private musical instructor Terry Marsh unfortunately missed out on seeing Willey capture first place. Marsh also had four other competitors from various Kitsap County schools competing at the event.

“The state finale was a two-day event and I had some kids from Central Kitsap who took first place unexpectedly on the first day. I was flying pretty high after that,” he said. Marsh left before the second day of competition got underway, but that didn’t seem to damper his joy when he learned about Willey’s accomplishment. “When one of my colleagues called me and told me that Malinda had won the championship in her category, I teared up a little bit. I know how much work she put in during the months leading up to the final competition of her high school career.”

He would know too as he has instructed Willey since she was in the eighth grade.

“Malinda is very well rounded and has a great work ethic. She plays with feeling,” he said.

This translated into great things during her time in the spotlight. But Willey admitted she was somewhat frightened by the level of talent surrounding her in Ellensburg.

“It was very intimidating when you listen to how good everyone is,” she said.

In the end, her five months of practicing the complex, five-octave Abe piece paid off.

“The five octave marimba is the biggest marimba there is,” she said of the drums. “The piece I worked on was a college level piece.”

It’s mastery didn’t come easy, though.

“During the second semester I had a free fifth period so I worked it out with the school where I could practice during that time,” she said. “Also, during four-day weekends and breaks they allowed me to bring materials home so I could get even more practice in. I put my heart and soul into it.”

In the fall, Willey will continue her education at Washington State University in Pullman where she plans to study music and one day become a professional solo percussionist.

“Ever since I was in the fourth grade I knew I wanted to do something with music,” she said. “Now I want to make the music and perform.”

Marsh, who is a 1997 WSU alumnus, said he believes Willey will fulfill any goal she sets for herself.

“She has a goal of becoming a professional musician,” he said. “She definitely has the talent to do it.”

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