The innovative drum camp and festival celebrates its twentieth anniversary with a genre-bending lineup featuring heavyweights Dennis Chambers, John Blackwell, and many more.

 

The KoSA 2015 Grand Finale
The KoSA 2015 Grand Finale

 

KoSA’s annual International Percussion Workshop, Drum Camp, and Festival took place in its quaint home at Castleton University in the Lakes Region of central Vermont this past July, just as it has for twenty years. The participation of fusion powerhouse Dennis Chambers added an extra bit of sizzle to an already outstanding faculty.

Students of all stripes were able to interact with, learn from, and perform among featured artists over the event’s six days. According to cofounder and artistic director Aldo Mazza, KoSA is unique among drum events in that it’s a very intense, intimate, hands-on experience. “You have nineteen artists on site,” Mazza explains, “and we purposefully designed the classes so that they’re very small. People who come here to see Jason Bittner of Shadows Fall, for example, will also be in a class with frame drum master Glen Velez.”

 

John Blackwell, Aldo Mazza, and Dennis Chambers
John Blackwell, Aldo Mazza, and Dennis Chambers

 

Along with anchor artists like Chambers, Blackwell, Saturday Night Live percussionist Valerie Naranjo, and classical percussion master Frank Epstein, KoSA’s 2015 lineup featured a diverse array of world percussion standouts, including steel pan composer and educator Tracy Thornton and samba master Marcus Santos. “I loved all of the experience,” Naranjo says. “[It’s] packed with seasoned artists who are culturally and socially aware. I was also impressed with the number and quality of seminars dedicated to the music business.”

“I think that for the participants it’s a great chance to see and experience some of their favorite players up close, and to have a chance to ask questions,” first-time KoSA artist Chambers says. “They get a chance to see us, and we get a chance to see them.” Chambers seemed to be having as much fun as the campers, according to Mazza, who says, “I’ll never forget how much Dennis lit up once he began playing with rhythm section lab players Bob Quaranta [piano] and Francesco Beccaro [bass], who were so tight and solid. He wore a smile from cheek to cheek, and he played so funky and kept pushing the musicians to the edge. It was totally electric. Dennis became like a kid at a playground.”

Though camps where featured performers and attendees mingle freely are commonplace now, KoSA was among the first to introduce this concept, developing a reputation for fostering an open, welcoming environment in which students can discover, learn, and grow. “The intimacy, the vibe, the focus, the chosen faculty, the positive energy, and the location combine to make KoSA a truly amazing experience that I, as well as everyone involved, will not soon forget,” Thornton says. “You take the experience with you, and it stays a part of you.”

 

Valerie Naranjo conducts a master class on West African keyboard.
Valerie Naranjo conducts a master class on West African keyboard.

 

During its twenty-year existence, KoSA has grown to include regular events in Cuba, China, and Europe, along with a host of smaller-scale events in New York, Miami, and other major markets. KoSA also conducts percussion-oriented team-building experiences and operates a school of music in Montreal. Still, Mazza describes it as a labor of love. “It’s really meant to be intimate and inspiring,” he says, “where all the artists who come can give back. You’re treated like family here. We’re not selling anything, only the idea that you can do it. If you believe, it is. All you have to do is the work.”

by Ben Meyer