Sweet Sounds of Trash
Meet a teen orchestra in South America that makes beautiful music from recycled garbage
A saxophone made of coins, keys, and bottle caps (Jorge Saenz / AP Images)
The sound of music slowly fills the concert hall as an orchestra begins to play. The high, bright notes of a violin are followed by the low, rich sound of a cello. Then a drum starts thumping. But this is no ordinary orchestra. The violin is made from a salad bowl and hunks of wood. Its strings are held in place with a fork. A saxophone is made from a metal pipe and coins. In fact, all the instruments are made from trash.
The group is called the Recycled Orchestra. It’s made up of 20 teens from the South American country of Paraguay. Their instruments are made from garbage found near their homes. They live in Cateura (kah-TUH-rah), a small, poor village just outside Paraguay’s capital, Asunción.
The teens play famous pieces of classical music by Mozart and Beethoven. But they also play rock music by the Beatles and other groups. Judging by the sound, you’d never know their instruments are made from items tossed into the trash.
“The world sends us garbage. We send back music,” says Favio Chávez. He is the music teacher who founded the Recycled Orchestra.
FROM TRASH TO TREASURE
Paraguay is one of the poorest countries in South America. More than a million people there get by on less than $1 a day. Cateura is a community that formed around garbage. Each day, 1,500 tons of trash is brought to a landfill there. A landfill is an area where garbage gets dumped and is later covered with soil.
In the U.S., most trash ends up in landfills. Few of us ever see it or think about it again. But for most of the 2,500 families in Cateura, the landfill is their livelihood. Many residents work as trash pickers. They search for scraps they can sell as recyclable materials. Nearly half the children in the area don’t finish school because their parents need them to work.
To keep the kids out of trouble, Chávez started a music school six years ago. But there were more kids than instruments, and there was no money to buy new instruments.
A resourceful trash picker named Nicolás Gómez came to the rescue. A former carpenter, Gómez made a violin from scraps of debris. “I never imagined myself building an instrument like this,” he says.
Soon, a whole orchestra was formed from recycled materials.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
The young musicians have been gaining attention outside Paraguay. They’ve given concerts in Brazil, Colombia, and Panama. They plan to perform in the U.S. later this year, at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.
The group will also appear in a movie called Landfill Harmonic. It is scheduled to be released next year. It shows how the community turns trash into instruments. The film also shows how playing music can give kids hope for a brighter future.
Thirteen-year-old Ada Ríos plays the violin in the Recycled Orchestra. She says music has already changed her life.
“When I listen to the sound of the violin, I feel butterflies in my stomach,” she says. “It’s a feeling that I don’t know how to explain.”