- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Alex Smith played the marimba through middle school and high school before realizing the impact the instruments had on the environment.

The wooden percussion instrument’s bars were once typically made from endangered Honduran Rosewood, which is heavily monitored when harvested.

“A tree has to be repurposed and sacrificed to make a marimba,” said Smith, 27, of Lansing. “Those trees are valuable. We should understand where (our instruments) come from.”

It got him thinking about how to make instruments with recycled materials.

“The music industry is dominated by a handful of companies,” he told the Lansing State Journal ( http://on.lsj.com/1QAP9FI ). “I try to offer a more localized, sustainable option.”

Using recycled wood from the Osage orange and sassafras trees and demolished barns, Smith made his first marimba in 2013.

“The one I made sounded really cool,” said Smith, a graduate student studying percussion performance at Michigan State University. “It’s just as resonant and dense.”

He launched Jim Nugent Instrument Works last summer, naming his business in honor of his late friend who donated his tools to Smith.

Last month, Smith decided to enter The Hatching’s business pitch competition and ended up winning $1,000, which he will put toward buying more tools for his workshop. The Hatching was founded by Michigan State University officials and local business leaders to encourage entrepreneurship through funding, market research and legal support.

“It’s a great way to reduce overall costs and that’s important for the educational system,” said Tony Willis, director of New Economy for the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, who judged the competition. “If you can get an instrument at lower costs, it gives people more access to it. It’s a good idea.”

A new marimba typically costs between $3,000 and $12,000. Smith charges between $2,500 and $9,000 for his marimbas, which take about a month to make. Repairs can cost between $1,500 and $2,500.

Since starting the business, Smith has made five marimbas, one from glass, along with wind chimes and drums, some of which he has already sold. He has also repaired a marimba for Divine Child High School in Dearborn.

Smith said he is open to experimenting and creating new kinds of instruments.

“If someone has an idea for an instrument that doesn’t exist, I can make it a reality,” he said.

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Information from: Lansing State Journal, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com

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