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A percussion instrument, in which different length wooden bars are hit by hammers of wood, metal or rubber. They are tuned to different scale systems, depending on origin, including pentatonic, heptatonic, diatonic or chromatic.
Originating perhaps in Indonesia, China or even India, they were widespread in Europe since the Middle Ages, and were most associated with Eastern-European folk music, most noticeably from Poland and eastern Germany.
Sometimes they were called ‘straw fiddles’, when the bars were laid on straw. The 1523 painting by Holbein, Dance Of Death, depicts a skeleton playing a portable xylophone, since when it has symbolised the rattling of dried bones to many people.
A cousin of the instrument is the marimba, pitched an octave lower, and there are variations in Africa (including the log and gourd zylophones), India, Cuba and other parts. It is a quintessential piece of African folk music today, for its ability to express and carry rhythm.
The first orchestral piece composed for its use was Saint-Saens’ LeDanse Macabre (1875). It’s also closely related to the hammered dulcimer. One with metal bars is now called a metallaphone, and ones with tubular resonators are vibraphones.
A 6-man folk rock band, winners of Battle of the Bands, Tulsa, OK, 2006. It was an impressive instrumental combined with a unique lead singer’s voice that marked them out. The folk-rock genre they play in continues to expand, morph and evolve.
The Road to Xanadu are a UK folk-indie-psychedelic band, as yet unsigned, but with one self-released EP, with style rooted in traditional folk.