Nonprofit fosters creativity and community with instrument making challenge


Video by Courtney Pedroza

Whether they created a high-tech, laser-cut synthesizer or an acoustic guitar out of two blocks of wood and string, musicians of all levels and music lovers of all ages participated in the Oh My Ears Epic Maker Instrument Challenge Saturday afternoon on Grand Avenue.

The challenge was created as a new space to foster creativity and community connection in Phoenix, said Oh My Ears co-founder Michael Ferraro.

“The event is inspired by what is called Maker Culture,” Ferraro said. “We created our version of the event because it promotes creativity and sharing (participatory culture), and the making and playing of the instruments is interdisciplinary and a great learning experience too.”

Oh My Ears is a nonprofit organization sponsored through national nonprofit Fractured Atlas. Participants in the Epic Maker Instrument Challenge registered in teams of up to four, created their instrument and then had five minutes to present and play.

“We are hoping, with this specific event, that we would bring together like-minded people,” said Elizabeth Bayer, Oh My Ears co-founder. “That the community could build on itself because the community is so physically spread out.”

A 9-year-old boy named Lucas impressed the room with a wooden acoustic guitar he built with his father. The instrument consisted of a long piece of wood attached to another wooden box with some guitar strings running through it. The creation also included a pickup that was attached to an amplifier.

ASU students Althea Pergakis and Gino Ceresia also entered the competition. The two built a synthesizer out of various woods and an electric motor. The contraption had eight wheels, each with a different number of spikes that represented notes in a major scale, Pergakis said. They also crafted something resembling a pick to play the instrument.

“We had a whole bunch of people who spontaneously created lots of funky new instruments, which is just the coolest thing,” Pergakis said. “Jamming with strangers on things they pulled out of nowhere was amazing.”

Both of the founders of Oh My Ears expect rapid growth for the event in the coming years. The organization aims to have more K-12 students pre-registering and making their own instruments, rather than just college students, Ferraro said.

“We also see the potential to partner with other local maker spaces and local schools and teachers to expand the reach of the event,” Ferraro said. “It would be great to have students doing this type of project as part of their classes, in addition to an extra-curricular activity.”

Upcoming events held by Oh My Ears include the third annual 10-hour-long Marathon concert featuring local musicians and other visiting groups on Jan. 23. The event moves from The Trunk Space to the Mesa Arts Center this year.

Another recurring event from the team is Musical Maps, which is free and open to all ages to create visual art based on live music. The next Musical Maps is Nov. 22 from 1-4 p.m.

More information about past events and all of the organization’s work can be found on their website.

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