Chat with students after workshop
The Backstory

Born in Nigeria and educated in England, Jan gained a music degree in London studying trumpet and piano. In January 1995, married and with 2 young daughters, Jan and the family moved to Botswana where husband Pete had a teaching contract. They thought that if it didn't work out they could always come back after 2 years. They stayed for nearly 8, and a third daughter was born.

For the last 4 years of their stay, Jan taught music in a local primary school and led the school marimba and steel pan group.  With a rapidly expanding repertoire of African songs the group went from strength to strength, playing at local ceremonies, school events and other community functions including the televised Debswana Project 2000 opening celebrations.

The family had the most incredible and exciting adventure and truly valued their experiences in Botswana.  They have treasured memories of good friends, colleagues, students, their church family, and of course the travel and wildlife.

Students play in Letlhakane
Bathoen House Primary School Marimba Group, Botswana, playing at a local AIDS awareness event.

The joy of working with these students and the inspiration that their music gives has remained with them ever since leaving Africa in 2002.

Money from selling the car was used to commission a set of marimbas to take when they left Botswana.  Moving from Botswana to Portugal and then Spain, the marimbas had occasional use at local events and at a summer school.

The Merrow-Smiths returned to England in 2007 and, until 2016, Jan worked as an HLTA in Special Educational Needs in secondary schools in Buckinghamshire.  She also ran a marimba group which has performed at school events including at the Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury.

The Instruments

The original set, made in the Zimbabwean style and similar to those pictured in the centre above, has resonators below each note made from fibre glass and plastic tubing. Traditionally they would have been made from gourds, hollowed and dried out, but then the gourds

SHFGS African marimba players
Year 9 students, Aylesbury, with the new set of marimbas.​

could only be used once.  In order to maximise the use of the gourds they became the moulds for fibre-glass resonators, particularly useful for the bass and baritone marimbas which require considerably larger gourds.

The original marimbas began to show signs of wear and tear, and when the opportunity arose to buy a new set, Jan's thoughts turned to the prospect of being able to use them in order to bring their vibrant and unique sound to a wider audience.  The new instruments, made in South Africa by The Marimba Workshop in South Africa, have an attractive natural sound.  Robust, they are suitable for players of most ages and can be used indoors and outdoors as the occasion requires. 

If you have read this page, perhaps your interest will have been sparked and you will want to try these instruments for yourself.  Please visit the other pages on this site for information on booking a workshop at your school or other workplace, booking our music for an event, or (if local enough) to book a place the marimba band.  Jan would love to hear from you!