Landfill Harmonic – Recycled Orchestra

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Recycled Orchestra

“The world sends us garbage, we send back music”

Recycled musical instrumentsThere’s an amazing video floating around YouTube that has brought a ray of sunshine to a very dark week for all of us. It’s the trailer for an upcoming documentary called Landfill Harmonic, which focuses on one remarkable group in Paraguay: an orchestra that plays instruments created out of literal trash, made lovingly for them by their community.

The small slum town of Cateura in Paraguay is plagued by illiteracy. It is surrounded by a landfill that has largely been imported from distant places, and instead of attending school small children sift through the garbage looking for things to resell to recycling companies.  The film reveals a mind-boggling, inventive effort to change that – musical instruments made from trash. In the barrios of Paraguay, a humble garbage picker uses his ingenuity to craft instruments out of recycled materials – and a youth orchestra is born. Music arises and children find new dreams.

After a discarded violin shell was discovered the community began making other musical instruments from the refuse. This presented a unique opportunity to teach the children of the poverty-stricken community to play music. Without these recycled instruments the children would never have been given the opportunity, as even a regular violin is worth more than a house in that area. Scraps of trash have been recycled into instruments that children in the village learn to play beautifully. They are collectively known as the Recycled Orchestra and are preparing for a world tour. Their success has not only brought attention to Cateura’s state of poverty, but also to the environmental impact of landfills.

recycled orchestra students These young musicians hail from a village in Paraguay called Cateura, a town perched on top of a mountain of garbage. Every day 1,500 tons of solid waste is dumped in a landfill in Cateura, where 2,500 families live. These families, with the help of their children, survive by recycling whatever they can find in the landfill, according to UNICEF.

One day Favio Chávez, an ecological technician, had a wild idea of giving these children something that would have been beyond their reach: playing music in an orchestra. Although he was trained as a musician and had experience in forming ensembles, he knew few if any families could afford musical instruments in Cateura, where a violin, Chávez says in the video, is worth more than a house. To his delight he discovered the solution was literally within his grasp: The dump site was overflowed with material capable of making music.

Thus The Recycled Orchestra was formed. Its fame has taken the 30-member ensemble traveling around the world, performing in Argentina, Brazil and Germany.

Studies have shown that children who play music are more likely to excel in math than peers who do not. Additionally, music majors who want to continue on to medical school have an astonishing 66% acceptance rate; higher than any other group.

Visit the films official web site here