"In our culture, music is part of everyday life. Either you choose to be part of it or you are out of it." Bernard Woma, Medie, GHANA

"My family has been making marimbas here for over 100 years. I was born in this building." Carlos Nandayapa, Chiapas, MEXICO

"Water is an amazing thing. It even makes music. There may be part of people's souls in these instruments." Terje Isungset, Geilo NORWAY


TALKING STICKS is an inspirational and educational documentary about a musician's inner and outer journeys with his instruments. The main character Arthur Lipner finds his identity in playing the unusual instruments vibraphone (vibes) and marimba. He becomes one of the top players in the world. His instruments afford him many opportunities for performance but he feels a disconnect since they are not part of the mainstream music scene in the USA. It is his exploration and conquering of this disconnect which is the main storyline of Talking Sticks.

Along the way, Talking Sticks presents the origins of instruments like no film has ever done before, whether percussion or other. We travel to Ghana where we sit on the ground with a marimba maker in a small village and learn of his family and their marimba tradition. We also hear from Ghanaian Master Xylophonist Bernard Woma. Woma says, "In our culture, music is part of life." In Chiapas, Mexico, we visit a marimba factory situated on a stunning river, where the Nandayapa family has been making marimbas by hand for over 100 years. Carlos Nandayapa takes us on a tour and discusses his marimba world. In Brazil, we're on the streets of Rio de Janeiro during Carnival performances, and on the concert stage with the National Symphony of Brazil during the World Premiere of Lipner's vibes and marimba concerto. In remote Iceland we visit a man who makes marimbas from stone.

Lipner's desire to deepen his experience as a keyboard percussionist, while moving traditions into new territory, take him to an icy mountaintop in Norway. There, we experience the construction of, and improvisation on, an ice xylophone during an ice music festival. This experience embodies much of what his journeys represent. In Norway he interviews ice musician Terje Isungset in an igloo. Isungset says, "This water has been through thousands of human beings..may have part of people's soul in it..and it's also music."

In the USA, we are granted rare access to percussion factories. Inside the Musser vibes and marimba factory in Chicago, we see the process of construction including the cutting and tuning of bars. In fact, in Talking Sticks we see bars being cut and tuned in Mexico, Chicago, Ghana and Norway. At the Mike Balter Mallets factory, mallet construction is explained along with the inner workings of these tools of the percussionist's trade.

Regarding the 20th century history of the instruments, we hear from a jazz faculty member of Columbia University as he summarizes the roots of jazz vibes. Footage of vibes greats Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson bring us continuity follows. NY Philharmonic percussionist Gordon Gottlieb also contributes to this segment. In addition, we hear from Ney Rosauro, marimbist and composer of the most popular marimba concerto ever.

Lipner decides to pose the same questions he has about connection via his instruments to others central to the development of vibes and marimba. Gary Burton and Mike Mainieri, both vibes players and living jazz legends, speak openly about their lives and the role the vibraphone has played in them. We also get to know 82 year-old Vida Chenoweth, the first "concert marimbist." Compelling, warm, and informative, these interviews give us glimpses into the mindset of the keyboard percussionist's joys and dilemmas. Lipner's former teacher provides wisdom and continuity during several appearances. Towards the end, he says, "We're all looking for the wholeness." Finally, Lipner references John Updike's poem "The Angels" for inspiration of his life's purpose.

Talking Sticks offers extraordinary visual footage, virtuosic musical performances, and educational content in an area and storytelling manner never done before. It presents one musician's journey in a search that has elements universal to all. TOTAL RUNNING TIME 1hr 2 mins.