Ruben Hernandez

Landfill Harmonic

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MIM hosts the landfill orchestra

mimIn April, some of the instruments of La Orquesta de Instrumentos reciclados de Cateura will be in a permanent display in the Latin American wing at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). They will be showcased alongside the Steinway piano on which John Lennon composed Imagine and the custom guitars of Carlos Santana, Elvis Presley and Eric Clapton. 

“We want to bring the children to MIM, but also have them interact with other schoolchildren in the Phoenix area,” says Daniel Piper, MIM curator of musical instruments. “We want to show these young people the musical instrument exhibit we have created from their instruments from the landfill and re-purposed trash. We want to show them how what they have done has resonated here.”

Piper says that arrangements have been made for a concert by the children’s orchestra in July. He adds that the MIM’s special exhibit of the landfill orchestra will feature eight instruments made by Nicholas Gomez, including a cello, viola, violin, lute and drum. The MIM also will display wind instruments made by Tito Romero, a trumpet repairman near Asunción whom Chavez asked to re-purpose scavenged metal and pipes into saxophones, clarinets and flutes.

According to Piper, there will many related projects around the orchestra’s concert appearance and the MIM exhibit. “There’s lots of energy, interest and synergy among a number of different players here, such as between our education department and artist residencies. We want to have educational workshops with the children. We want to have workshops here where we show people how to make instruments from recycled things.”

“The significance of this is you have these kids in this town in Paraguay with so little, and where the tradition of music has died out. This provides them with an opportunity to express themselves at a high level. That’s phenomenal,” Piper says. “Contrast this with the United States, where music is being cut out of school budgets, where it only has value as entertainment. Without this music, those children in Cateura would feel lost.”

Piper expresses enthusiasm for an exhibit and concert opportunity that tie such important themes together – music, environmentalism, recycling and sustainability.  

“We want to highlight this recycling theme throughout the exhibition,” he says. “Traditional cultures for thousands of years have been using recycled materials from the environment around them to make music. In the modern age, you have the waste products of an industrialized world. Take the steel drums of Trinidad. The steel drum orchestra instruments came from trash. They came from discarded 55-gallon oil barrels. They contained chemicals and were health hazards. Now, they are one of the most celebrated musical expressions of the 20th century.”

The inventiveness of mankind to make music is the kind of theme the MIM was founded to showcase, Piper notes. 

“It’s a beautiful story and fits in very well with this theme of the ingenuity of humans around the world using what they have at their disposal to create music.”

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