NEA Grant Brings Innovative Percussionists To Tech

SOCORRO, N.M. March 30, 2015 – The Performing Arts Series at New Mexico Tech is one of just a few organizations to receive the 2015 National Endowment for the Arts Challenge America grant. That award of $10,000 allows the Performing Arts Series to support a concert and outreach activities with Scrap Arts Music, from Vancouver, British Columbia.


Scrap Arts Music performs a lively and entertaining show. they will be at Macey Center on Friday, April 17.



All of the instruments are sculpted from found materials.



PVC pipes are among the many items repurposed as percussion instruments.


Scrap Arts Music is a five-member theatrical percussion ensemble that uses mobile instruments artfully crafted from industrial scraps. They will give a concert on Friday, April 17, at MaceyCenter on the New Mexico Tech campus in Socorro, plus present lecture-demonstrations and workshops for students in the Socorro, Magdalena and Alamo-Navajo Schools.

“I feel like this show is a perfect fit for us for a variety of reasons,” series Director Ronna Kalish said. “This group is a cut-above. It’s more than just music with choreography. The instruments are designed sculptures that make music. I feel like Tech students are so oriented toward design and creation that this will be fascinating to our population in Socorro.”

The group is lead by Gregory Kozak, who not only wrote all the music, but invented and created all the instruments as well. Many were made by shaping, bending, and welding great-sounding – and looking – salvaged material into musical sculptures. The Scrap Arts Music ensemble of exceptional and highly-trained musicians has refined the innovative techniques used to generate the rich array of sounds and textures that infuse the compositions. They’ve named all the compositions and the instruments they created.

All of the instruments have interesting and sometimes fanciful names, such as Humunga Drum, Mojo, Scorpion Drums, B52 Drum and Sighchordion With a Variety of Chord Cluster Bottoms. Others include the Nail Violin, Ziggurat Drum, Junk-On-A-Stick and Bell-Flower Chime.

“Scrap Arts Music is really different from anything we bring to Socorro,” Kalish said. “They are intelligent, accomplished musicians and composers and there’s a real intellect behind their concept. This is within a week of Earth Day and we have the sustainability angle – they have recycled things that were destined for a landfill and created these amazing musical instruments. For me, that dovetails perfectly with Socorro and Tech and their vision of creativity and design.”

Kozak is the co-founder, artist director, instrument designer, composer and performer. Schooled in jazz and world music, Kozak draws inspiration from the avant-garde composers of the 20th century. He learned the art of welding specifically so he could create instruments to give voice to his unique musical vision.

An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer stated that “Kozak’s instruments tend to be, in the spirit of American composer Harry Partch, mutated versions of the familiar, whether twirling hoses that render an airborne layer of sound or mini-versions of concertina accordions. Their capabilities are limited but distinctive, resulting in ethereal sounds that meld willingly with traditional instruments and give them a whole new cast.”

Innovative exploration and collaboration have characterized much of Kozak’s artistic and professional career. His first show of original work toured the United States and made an acclaimed Broadway debut in February 1998. A New York Times reviewer wrote that “They have evoked the primitive, embodied the hip and reached out to an almost extraterrestrial avant-garde.”

Later in 1998, Kozak and partner Justine Murdy established Scrap Arts Music. Murdy continues as the lighting and costume designer and group manager.

The Socorro performance will include 15 original compositions that all have an element of choreography.  With each piece, a new instrument is introduced, each providing unique sounds and tones.

The group’s stage musicians all have ties to the Vancouver area. They include Spencer Cole, Jill Cooper, Greg Samek and Malcolm Shoolbraid. Each of the musicians has a long list of credits from a wide variety of sources.

Spencer Cole is the son of professional musicians and has been playing music all his life. He started studying jazz percussion as a teenager and soon branched out into experimental. He earned a bachelor’s in jazz performance in 2008 and joined Scrap Arts Music soon thereafter.

Jill Cooper is a hyper-talented, multi-instrumentalist who started playing violin at age 5. Just 20 years old, she took up drumming at age 13 and began busking in Victoria, B.C., at age 14 with her older sister. While not on tour, Cooper is pursuing a degree in science, teaches drumming and performs as a singer, drummer and violinist.

Greg Samek earned a bachelor’s in music education from the University of Windsor and a master’s in percussion performance from the University of Toronto. He has performed with an impressive array of orchestras, percussion ensembles and experimental musicians. He joined Scrap Arts Music in 2008.

Malcolm Shoolbraid began drumming at age 16 and first joined Scrap Arts in 2000. In addition to a rich musical career, he has worked as a house-builder, logger and commercial fisherman. He took a sabbatical from the group in 2008 to start a family and try his hand as an entrepreneur. He rejoined the ensemble in 2011 and is always planning his next surfing adventure.

NEA Chairman Jane Chu said, “I’m pleased to be able to share the news of our support through Challenge America including the award to the New Mexico Tech Performing Arts Series. The arts foster value, connection, creativity and innovation for the American people and these recommended grants demonstrate those attributes and affirm that the arts are part of our everyday lives.”

The NEA received 347 eligible Challenge America applications and awarded 163 grants for a total of $1.63 million. For a complete listing of projects recommended for Challenge America support, please visit the NEA website at arts.gov. Follow the conversation about this and other NEAfunded projects on Twitter at #NEAFall2014.

Kalish said the NEA award is a significant award for a small university, such as Tech. She also put together a state-wide tour for the group, including stops in Alamogordo, Farmington and Las Cruces, in addition to the local stops.

“We are so thrilled to be one of the selected awardees by the Challenge America program,” Kalish said. “Scrap Arts Music is so inventive, musical, athletic and fun, it gets everyone excited about music, dance and the arts.”

The Challenge America category supports projects that extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability.

“This award is a big deal for us because it’s super-competitive,” Kalish said. “The NEA grant allows me to schedule a lot more outreach.”

In addition to the public show, Scraps Arts Music presents lecture-demonstrations at Magdalena Schools (Thursday, April 16), Socorro schools (Friday, April 17) and Alamo-Navajo schools (Thursday, April 23). The group will also present four hands-on workshops in Found Sound and Instrument Making for students in fourth through eighth grades.

In “Found Sound Workshops,” Kozak uses the group’s touring instruments as a departure point for a “found sound” overview. He discusses the origins and evolution of his mobile, kinetic instruments, creations that are taking the ensemble around the world. He then discusses where to look for and assess materials with sonic potential and how to develop that potential. He works with participants to organize found sound into a sonic palette, while developing simple musical ideas as a final to the workshop.

In the Rhythm and Movement Workshop, ensemble members will discuss and explore percussion techniques and composition, including a variety of drumming patterns and the creation of a musical piece. The ensemble will perform one piece from its repertoire to demonstrate the possibilities of rhythm and movement with the instruments. Participants will divide into small groups to develop musical ideas under the guidance of the professionals. Each groups’ contributions will then be brought together to create one piece, resulting in a creation and presentation of kinetic percussion piece involving all participants.

For more information on the workshops, call the Performing Arts Series at (575) 835-5688 or visit the website at www.nmtpas.org.

Tickets to the April 17 performance are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $10 for youth, and are available online at www.nmtpas.org, in person at the Tech Cashier’s Office, Brownbilt Shoes and Western Wear, Burrito Tyme Drive-up, by calling 575-835-5688, or at the door.     

– NMT –