Recycled Orchestra: The Sound of Hope

by Melody Morrow

Recently the TV show 60 Minutes aired a wonderful story about eco-friendly innovation, recycling and hope for a new generation of musicians across the world.

Paraguay’s Recycled Orchestra was founded in Cateura, one of Paraguay’s poorest towns in Latin America and on the outskirts of Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. The town is built on a landfill and defined by its trash. The community comprised of about 2500 families exist by gathering and selling garbage, approximately 1500 tons of waste daily. They are surrounded by unique sights, smells and … now beautiful sounds. A real Green City focused on recycling. Workers get paid 10 cents for a pound of plastic and 5 cents for a pound of cardboard. Cans, pipes, cigar boxes and anything else you can possibly imagine is used to craft the instruments for this sustainable orchestra.

A music teacher named Favio Chavez, himself a musician since age 13 years, had a vision to turn discarded materials into musical instruments. The young people in this very poor area are exposed to violence and drugs and surrounded by little creativity and would probably be garbage collectors like their parents, but Mr. Chavez saw this as an opportunity to provide new opportunities for the youth of Cateurra. He said “The world sends us their garbage, we give them back music.” You can see the pride the children take in playing and owning such a unique piece as well as the parents who believe their children will have a better life because of it.

The orchestra, now performing internationally, is comprised of 18 young musicians from Paraguay who use musical instruments completely made from recycled materials. If you look close you can’t believe not only that they look like a regular instrument, but they play like one as well. The very serious students are truly creating great harmony where there was none before. The instruments range from drums, cellos, violins and flutes and are a DIY extraordinaire. It’s amazing how wonderfully each piece is handcrafted with loving care and the value placed on garbage transformed.

The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix hosted the troupe back in August and will perform publicly on behalf of the museum. MIM was raising funds to cover the costs of traveling to the US. MIM collects, preserves and showcases instruments from every country in the world. Music is truly a universal language and translates into passion and innovation and in this case, model sustainability.

A documentary based on this inspirational story is called Landfill Harmonic, and supposed to be released in 2014.

Hope sounds pretty great.

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