The Recycled Orchestra: Making Sweet Music from Discarded Junk

Recycled Orchestra builds its own instruments from junk found at the local landfill

A group of young musicians living in a remote Paraguayan village located near a landfill view trash in a much brighter light than the rest of us. So many kids in the area were interested in playing music that there weren’t enough instruments to go around. Solution: Build musical instruments out of found materials at the landfill.

Ceteura, Paraguay is a slum town situated virtually on top of a landfill. Many of the residents make their income by rummaging through the trash to find any valuables they can turn around and sell. For some, it’s their only way to make money.

A musical instrument, such as a violin, is worth more than a house in Ceteura. So, it’s remarkable that orchestra director Luis Szaran and music teacher Favio Chavez were able to start a music program in such a poverty-stricken area.

Since the first instrument was built out of found items several years ago, the so-called Recycled Orchestra has blossomed into a glimmer of hope for children who would likely otherwise join gangs or face a lifetime of searching through garbage just to make a living.

Chavez has taught over a 120 students to date, and 25 currently make up the Recycled Orchestra. The gifted group of students and young adults play instruments made from old metal cans, kitchen utensils, scrap wood and other items plucked from the landfill.

Once assembled, these “junkstruments” sound extraordinarily similar to their “real” counterparts.

The story of the Recycle Orchestra has caught the eye of American filmmaker Graham Townsley. The Emmy-nominated director is currently producing a feature-length documentary about the trash-to-music phenomenon in Ceteura, Paraguay. You can find the teaser to “Landfill Harmonic” below. It’s expected to be released in 2013.

The Paraguayan government has taken notice as well. It has offered monetary support for the expansion of the music school.

The Recycled Orchestra has recently taken its talents on tour in several other South American countries, like Brazil and Columbia. The whole idea of transforming garbage into fully functioning musical instruments, not to mention forming a complete orchestra from them, is a story we can all learn something from.

Chavez recently told the L.A. Times, "Sports can be competitive. Music causes children to connect and feel they are building something together. Our orchestra feels special because the children make beauty out of garbage."