The Recycled Orchestra: From junk to joy
Sat, Jan 19 2013 at 3:19 AM
As a child, my friends and I used to make some fantastic music on homemade instruments. Pots and pans were always a favorite, whether beaten with a wooden spoon, our hands, or another utensil. We filled old coffee cans with small rocks and fought over who got to shake them. Sometimes we even made off with our mother’s wind chimes, or were lucky enough to find other household objects that could make something besides a percussive noise.
Of course, these ad hoc orchestras were formed in our rather privileged homes (or back yards, after our noise had gotten us kicked out of the house) and the instruments were just a fun way to entertain ourselves.
Not so for these children in Paraguay.
Dubbed the Recycled Orchestra, this group is formed by teenagers in the town of Catuera, an incredibly impoverished area built around the local landfill. Their homes are in close proximity to the dump. Their lives revolve around the waste that is not only a hazard to their health, but the main source of income for their families, who sort through the trash for recyclables. Yet from this destitution and debris, the children have managed to create joy and beauty with instruments made from the very garbage they sort for money.
Favio Chavez, the orchestra’s director, befriended the employees and their children, sharing his love of music with them by using his own personal instruments to teach them. When Chavez had more students than instruments, he decided to make some himself using the materials found in the garbage dump. Drawing on the craftsmanship of a landfill employee named Cola (Nicholas Gomez), the two have experimented with different materials until creating enough to change the lives of the children wanting desperately to learn.
Now boasting thirty members, the Recycled Orchestra features a range of instruments upcycled from scraps of wood, oil drums, kitchen utensils, plastic pipes, and whatever materials Cola finds that will make excellent sound.
The musicians were thrilled to find inspiration while surrounded by the filth of the landfill. Chavez, who more than anything wanted to teach the children confidence and give them a positive social activity, has created a group so inspiring that they have surprised the world with their talent. The orchestra has performed in several countries, and is the subject of an upcoming movie, the “Landfill Harmonic.”