Dad, daughter team find COVID silver lining

Kaitlyn Zajkowski and her father made the most of their confinement by building a marimba.
Posted on 07/30/2020
Kaitlyn Zajkowski and her dad play the marimba ta they built together.By Gary Weckselblatt

Since the closing of school buildings on March 13th, Quakertown Community High School senior Kaitlyn Zajkowski has missed her time in the band room where she could “find my peace” playing her favorite musical instrument, the marimba.

During the quarantine from the COVID-19 Pandemic, she discussed options with her parents, but list prices for marimbas begin at about $2,500 and can reach $20,000. So purchasing the percussion instrument that consists of a set of wooden bars struck with rubber mallets to produce soft, musical tones was out of the question.

Cut off from music “in a band sense” and “longing to get back to music,” Kaitlyn began searching for ways to solve her challenge. She fired up her computer and quickly realized her only option was to build her favorite instrument. She spoke with her dad and the father-daughter team agreed to become the dynamic duo.

Neither had a background in this type of endeavor. Ed Zajkowski works in Information Technology and Kaitlyn, a sharp student who plans to study engineering in college - either biomedical or materials science - acknowledged “we had no clue what we were doing.”



Still, the family knew that if Kaitlyn put her mind to it, there was no stopping her on this monumental effort. “She never once thought this wouldn’t be done,” Stephanie Zajkowski said. “She didn’t even hesitate.”

Dad agreed. “Kaitlyn can be relentless if she wants to do something,” he said. “This was an opportunity for us to learn and to share.”

Dad purchased the wood and other materials to build the large instrument and their four-month effort, completed in mid-July, created a lifetime of memories. Dad would watch his daughter research, size, cut, sand, stain and tune each key while he handled the heavier work. He was close by as his daughter rapidly matured before his eyes.

“It gave us a chance to have some good conversations,” Mr. Zajkowski said. “I got to see her brain working. She is driven.”

Kaitlyn admitted many mistakes happened along the way. “Sometimes a key wouldn’t come out right but we would find ways around that,” she said. “At one point we had to redo a ton of keys. I messed up measurements. But whenever we had setbacks we would support each other. Our goal kept us on track.

“I’m super happy with it. It’s just for practice so it doesn’t have to be perfect. It’ll always be a work in progress. I’ll always be improving it and I’ll always be working on it to improve my skills.

“It was really an enjoyable experience bonding with my dad. It was hard work but so worthwhile. I’m so glad that we did it. It’s so special that we got to work together.”

The story doesn’t end there. Kaitlyn had the foresight to document the undertaking with a 20-minute video, "How we built our marimba," which was posted on social media by QCHS band director Frank Parker. From there, Kaitlyn drew notice in the music world. A friend of Mr. Parker’s, Ryan Beard, Instrumental Music Editor at the Neil A. Kjos Music Co. in San Diego, was so inspired by the Zajkowski’s project that he composed a piece for them.

In addition, Angel Velez, conductor of the Santa Monica Chamber Orchestra, has requested an interview with Kaitlyn during the 2020 New Music Project & Online Festival Saturday, August 1 at 4 p.m. (EST). It can be seen at www.LAFCI.org.

“These are some of the iconic names in the music industry from all over the world,” Mr. Parker said. “For Kaitlyn to be included is quite an honor. Personally, I’m blown away at how she was able to plan this from initiation to completion. All of the research, making each piece. A tremendous accomplishment.”

Said Mr. Zajkowski: “It’s something she’ll always remember. something I’ll always remember.”

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at gweckselblatt@qcsd.org.

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