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The Recycled Orchestra: From trash to music

Young musicians from South America are going from the slums to the biggest stages of classical music by turning trash into melody.

The group is tuning up for a concert in the Valley this summer.

Garbage pickers in a slum in Paraguay are finding new uses for the millions of pounds of waste found in landfills in the poverty stricken country.

In the town of Cateura families make ends meet by picking garbage from the landfill and selling recyclable items. Around 2,500 families live in the town, along with about 1,500 tons of waste that are dumped in the landfill each day, according to UNICEF.

It was the originality of Favio Chavez, an ecological technician who worked at the landfill in Paraguay, who came up with the idea of using scraps from the trash and using them to create musical instruments. Those musical instruments became a way out of the slums for dozens of kids.

By providing musical instruments made of trash, the Recycled Orchestra was born. A documentary film highlighting the creation of the orchestra, explains the idea came from an initiative to bring music to kids in poverty in that region. The Landfill Harmonic shows the deplorable conditions in which a single violin can be worth more money than a house.

Musical instruments are built from garbage. A cello can be made of oilcans, scraps of wood, old spoons and clunky pieces of a meat grinder. Violins are built from metal glue canisters, recycled wood and tuning pegs. Rusty forks hold the strings together. When putting together a tin water pipe, metal bottle caps, plastic buttons, a metal spoon and fork handles, a clarinet is created.

Flutes, trumpets and clarinets created out of garbage are just some of the instruments you can find in a special exhibit at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.

The museum is looking to bring 24 students from the Recycled Orchestra to the Valley in August.

“There would be an intensive instrument-making workshop,” Daniel Piper, curator at MIM, said. “We’re anticipating that some of the local musicians would be able to learn a piece and join the Recycle Orchestra from Paraguay.”

Piper hopes to set up two public concerts and a family day at the museum.

“There would be a variety of activities, a public tour, and an inauguration of the new exhibit with the orchestra present,” Piper said.

The Musical Instrument Museum is currently raising funds to tune up the details of the Recycled Orchestra’s visit to the Valley. To make a contribution or learn more about what the museum is doing you can find information here.