As I get older, I realize that certain things aren’t as easy to learn as when I was a child. I started taking guitar lessons a few months ago alongside my two children. My son Christian, who was born with “perfect pitch” is a natural. Not only can he tell what note is played on a piano without looking, he can decipher which notes are being played in any given chord (three or more notes played together). Now that’s a gift! Christian can tune a guitar with the built-in tuner in his head. My daughter, Gabriela, is developing “relative pitch,” which means she will be able to play notes based on sound, but not be able to name them specifically. Pretty cool, huh?.
As for me, well that’s a different story. I learned to read music and played tenor saxophone when I was in Junior High School. My school, Angelo Patri, I.S. 137, was one of the few that was invited to perform at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. We played two pieces and I remember it being incredibly amazing. I like to consider that the highlight of my short-lived musical career.
At age 47 it’s hard for me to play chords on a guitar. I watch my kids do it with such ease and without much practice. Ah, to be young again. I wanted to learn when I was young, but always thought I didn’t have the ability. As it turns out, most people do have some sense of musical ability and coordination to learn to play an instrument. One of the challenges while growing up was being able to afford an instrument. That didn’t come easy since, growing up poor, my parents were doing their best to put food on the table and clothing on the backs of eight children. Needless to say, purchasing an instrument was a luxury that we could not afford, not to mention lessons.
Enter Landfill Harmonic and The Recycled Orchestra. 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 is a town essentially built on top of a landfill. Garbage collectors browse the trash for sellable goods, and children are often at risk of getting involved with drugs and gangs. When music teacher Fabio set up a music program for the kids of Cateura, they soon have more students than they have instruments.
That changed when Szaran and Fabio were brought something they had never seen before: a violin made out of garbage. Today, there’s an entire orchestra of assembled instruments, now called The Recycled Orchestra.
The film, Landfill Harmonic, shows how trash and recycled materials can be transformed into beautiful sounding musical instruments, but more importantly, it brings witness to the transformation of precious human beings.
Growing up in the streets the South Bronx (hey… Al Pacino grew up there and so did Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor), there was plenty of trash in vacant lots (you can enjoy some of the history here). My first bicycle was made of found parts. I never thought I could make musical instruments from trash. To these kids a violin is said to cost more than the house they live in. The children in The Recycled Orchestra music program are certainly inspired by pure geniuses.
You can follow the progress and development of the documentary via their facebook page Landfillharmonicmovie