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Grinnell Artists: Marlys Grimm

Marlys Grimm accompanies the Grinnell Singers and the Grinnell Oratorio Society. Photo by Ariel Richards.

By Hannah Agpoon

In the early evening on Tuesdays and Thursdays, people walking past Sebring-Lewis Hall in Bucksbaum Center for the Arts can hear the harmonious voices of the Grinnell Singers, radiating from within the concert venue. Not to be overshadowed, however, are the beautiful accompanying piano melodies, which are played by the lovely Marlys Grimm.

Grimm accompanies both the Grinnell Singers and the Grinnell Oratorio Society during their rehearsals and performances. Even when a piece is meant to be sung acapella, she is there to help the singers learn the tune so that they’re able to sing it unaccompanied by an instrument. In addition to this work on campus, she regularly plays with soloists at churches, such as Herrick Chapel, as well as at the Mayflower Retirement Home.

Over the course of ten years, Grimm has built a strong relationship with John Rommereim, director of Grinnell Singers, and loves the collaborative efforts that go into performing a song.

“[A]ll of the choir directors that I’ve ever worked with were so educational and helped me learn things and stretch my thinking on what I could play, just [by] asking for more,” Grimm said.

Marlys is an accomplished pianist, in part because she is so diligent.

“I practice a lot. Some days I don’t practice at all, [but other days] I’ll practice four or five hours… And if I have something specific to be working on, like the music for Singers or the Oratorio, then I practice that. Once in a while, I’ll just play my own music for fun, but most of the time I’m working towards a goal.”

Grimm, who has lived in Iowa her entire life, has been playing her beloved instrument ever since she was eight years old.

“I took piano lessons from a sweet little lady, went to her house after school once a week,” said Grimm, smiling. “I took lessons with her all through middle school and part of high school … And when I was in middle school, I got the opportunity to start accompanying our school choir and learned so much by doing that.”

This experience in Marlys’ life inspired her to continue collaborating with fellow musicians. She attended Central College in Pella, Iowa, where she began studying piano with a college professor.

“My parents were very supportive, especially my mom. She’s the one that got us all started in piano lessons.”

Today, music is still an incredibly important part of her family’s life. Her husband Norm is a retired choir director who has taught kindergarten through high school-aged students. Grimm would often accompany the choirs or high school musicals that he directed.

“I think it has brought us closer together because we can sympathize with each other. We can discuss things that we both understand,” Grimm said.

Norm and Marlys have four children and eleven grandchildren, all of whom are involved with music in some way.

“I met my husband in choir,” said Grimm, “and then our children all met their spouses because of choir in some way! [M]usic has been important to our family, and now [our kids] are passing that on to their children too.”

Though she has never played a formal solo show, she plays for her family often. “My husband plays the piano too, so we like to play piano duets. One of our grandchildren was just messing around on the piano recently at our house playing chopsticks, so we pulled out a duet version of chopsticks and played that for him.”

Grimm puts care and dedication into everything she does. She has crocheted afghans for nearly all her family members, and she plans to finish the remaining three this year. She also loves to bicycle and has completed the RAGBRAI bicycle ride, which involves biking across Iowa.

“Usually [the route] is between 475 to 525 [miles] spread out through the whole week, so average days are probably 60 or 70 miles [each],” said Grimm. “So that’s been a challenge. I didn’t do it this past summer, but I had done it the previous five or six years. I didn’t start doing it until I was in my 50s.”

Clearly, Grimm has a can-do attitude that takes her far, both literally and in her creative endeavors. The love she puts into her work can be heard and felt by the audience receiving it.

“As a musician, you work at making the melodies, [at] say[ing] something in the way that you play them. It might be the phrasing or the way that you touch [the keys], and it doesn’t have to be the same every time. That’s partly what makes it so interesting,” Grimm said.

For Grimm, performing a concert is never about putting on a show. It is all about the music and collaborating with people who care about it just as much as you do.

“Most of the time after performance, I’m energized. [A]t first it’s hard to go to sleep at night because you’re so stimulated!” Grimm said.

“I wouldn’t say that I would have to perform in front of people to be happy. I enjoy the rehearsals so much that even if that was all I got to do, that would be fine. I think a big part of it is the community that you make with people … and doing something in common that you love.”


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    Gayle RoelfsOct 5, 2019 at 8:50 pm

    Marlys is indeed an accomplished pianist and I’m also proud to call her my sister! Love you