Williams and a Musical Google Doodle

As you read this, the chances are high that the browser pathway you just used went past the Google desktop. Every day there is a new design in the center of your screen, a Doodle.

Here is a link to the Doodle from May 22, 2020:


The story behind this Doodle starts in Zimbabwe and the musical tradition of the gourd and metal instrument called the mbira. The story got to the Doodle form in part through the efforts of musicians who have been nurturing the rich musical culture of Zimbabwe in the heart of the Berkshires. Williams professor Tendai Muparutsa sang and played hosho/shakers for the recording, but perhaps his most important contribution is that of musical mentor to generations of Williams students. In charge of musical production, score and audio direction was Nathan Miller ’15. Nathan was also the winner of the Watson Prize, traveling to Zimbabwe during his time at Williams to deepen his study of the mbira. Nick Zammuto ’99 was responsible for mixing, sound design and editing.

According to Banning Eyre of Afropop Worldwide, this is how the project came together:

“Last fall, musician/producer Nathan Miller approached Nora Balaban, a fine mbira player and leader of the band Timbila, to ask for help. Nathan had studied mbira music in Zimbabwe, and Google wanted him to help create a doodle in which users would actually learn to play mbira songs. Easier said than done! Long story short, Nora recruited two New England-based Zimbabweans, Tendai Muparutsa and Shirley Chukukwa, to sing, as well as Ben Teters to play drums and hosho percussion. Fellow Timbila members Rima Fand on violin, and myself on guitar and bass also contributed for the ending dance song in the Doodle. Nathan and Nora did the bulk of the detail work, and kudos to the Google team for their diligence in making sure to get things right. The Doodle is up until midnight, Friday, May 22.”

Check out the story behind the story in this delightful short film!