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MIM’s Recycled Orchestra Exhibit Highlights How Music Can Generate Hope

If you haven’t visited North Phoenix recently, this exhibit at the MIM may bring you to do so.  The Musical Instrument Museum has opened a Recycled Orchestra exhibit in its Latin America Gallery. Inspired by a remarkable youth group from Paraguay, the exhibit features eight of the ensemble’s innovative instruments made from trash, along with video and photography shot in their hometown.

The instruments in MIM’s Recycled Orchestra exhibit come from a shantytown built on a landfill in Cateura, Paraguay, where families survive by collecting and reselling garbage. In this small town on the outskirts of the country’s capital Asunción, a violin can cost more than a house. There, visionary music teacher Favio Chávez gathered a team to search the landfill for usable materials and create instruments from recycled trash. In just a few years, their program has led to a thriving music school and a youth orchestra that performs internationally. That orchestra is the subject of a documentary, Landfill Harmonic, which is currently in production and is slated to be released in 2014. The film team includes Alejandra Amarilla Nash (founder and executive producer), Rodolfo Madero (executive producer), Juliana Peñaranda-Loftus (producer) and Emmy-nominated director Graham Townsley.

Made with items such as metal oil barrels, tin paint cans, old x-ray films, coins, bottle caps, spoons and plastic buttons, these instruments prove that poverty doesn’t preclude a life rich with music. The recycled instruments on display at MIM include:

A viola made from a tin paint container, recycled wood and a fork as a tailpiece
A violin whose body was cut from a metal commercial glue canister covered with Portuguese writing and symbols warning of toxic fumes
A flute made from a tin water pipe, lock pieces and a spoon handle
A rotary valve trumpet made from recycled metals, including worthless coins serving as valve caps
A soprano saxophone made from a tin water pipe, metal bottle caps, plastic buttons, a metal spoon and fork handles
A drum with chest x-ray films as drumheads, instead of animal skins
A cello made from a PetroBras automotive oil container from Brazil, with used strings held in place by a spatula
A double bass made from a metal calcium carbide container and bolts, with a fingerboard and scroll salvaged from a bass smashed in a car wreck.

Dr. Daniel Piper, MIM’s curator for Latin America and the Caribbean, has been working with the film team for more than a year and sees strong parallels between the Recycled Orchestra and other stories of hope and resilience told in MIM’s galleries. “Their story represents the intrinsic need by people around the world to make music,” said Piper. “For thousands of years, this need has driven musical innovation and creativity, leading to the incredible variety of instruments.”

The Recycled Orchestra will be performing at the MIM Friday, August 9 and Saturday, August 10. Click here for more details or to purchase tickets.

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