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The Recycled Orchestra: Creating Music out of Garbage

January 11, 2013
Landfill Harmonic is an upcoming feature-length documentary about a remarkable musical orchestra in Paraguay, where the musicians play instruments made from trash.

Cateura, Paraguay - Every day 1,500 tons of solid waste is dumped in a landfill in Cateura. Seven neighborhoods housing some 2,500 families surround the dump. According to UNICEF, these families, with the help of their children, survive by recycling whatever they can find in the landfill.

Garbage collectors, mostly children, browse the trash for sellable goods, and are often at risk of getting involved with drugs and gangs. So Favio Chávez, an ecological technician and music teacher, and orchestra director Szaran and decided to set up a music program for the kids of Cateura.

But they soon had more students than instruments, and the families living around the dump could not afford to buy them. That all changed one day, when Szaran and Chávez were brought something they had never seen before: a violin made out of garbage. The solution was literally within their grasp... the dump site was overflowing with material capable of making music.

Thus The Recycled Orchestra was formed. "The world sends us garbage, we send back music," says Chavez. Today, there’s an entire orchestra of assembled instruments, regularly performing the music of Beethoven and Mozart, Henry Mancini and the Beatles. The ensemble's fame has taken the 30-member group around the world, performing in Argentina, Brazil and Germany.

In 2010, the Orchestra attracted the attention of Graham Townsley, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker. Townsley and his crew have been making a feature-length documentary called Landfill Harmonic that shows how trash and recycled materials can be transformed into beautiful sounding musical instruments.

The documentary isn't expected to be released until 2014, but in November, the filmmakers created a Facebook page and posted a short trailer on YouTube and Vimeo that has gone viral, quickly getting more than a million views altogether.

"I made this orchestra to educate the world and raise awareness," Chávez told Fox News Latino. "But it’s also a social message to let people know that even though these students are in extreme poverty, they can also contribute to society. They deserve an opportunity."