Paraguay’s Recycled Orchestra

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Paraguay’s Recycled Orchestra is set to make its debut at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). The orchestra is made up of young musicians who make music with instruments made out of trash. The MIM curator for Latin America and the Caribbean, Dr. Daniel Piper talks about the details of the visit.

Jose Cardenas: Paraguay's recycled orchestra is set to make its U.S. debut at the Musical Instrument Museum, also known as the MIM. But first hear here is a clip from the documentary "Landfill Harmonic" which is about Paraguay's recycled orchestra. Joining me now is Dr. Daniel Piper, MIM's curator for Latin America and the Caribbean. Welcome to "Horizonte." This is a remarkable story, one we've covered recently when we had the person who's responsible for making the documentary that will be released next year. In fact we used that same teaser. The MIM's interest in this started with bringing those instrument and making them part of your exhibition.

Daniel Piper: That's correct. We saw this story and the instruments as really resonating with our mission. We're a global music organization that covers music from everything corner of the world, covers folk music, art music, and this particular story and these instruments made from recycled materials from the landfill actually we see in other parts of the museum, other instruments made from recycled materials. We celebrate the steel pan from Trinidad, for example, made from 55 gallon oil containers back starting in the 1930s. We have a Castro oil guitar in our South Africa exhibit, and various other stories like this. But this one is very unique because the instruments, violin and cello and flutes we associate with elite western culture and centuries of refining and making these instruments of classical music. And here they're made from the landfill, trash, in order to benefit these children that didn't have an opportunity to make music.

Jose Cardenas: We'll be running pictures of these instruments as we're talking. In the teaser one of the people talking said that the violins -- A real violin would be the cost of a house there, and now have you them going out and making these things out of trash.

Daniel Piper: That's right. Many of these -- These are from a shanty town, you have migration from rural sectors, into the city. And there's the infrastructure is not able to support the population, many people don't have work, don't have access to clean water or health care. And are basically kind of living on the edge in these shanty towns. So, yeah, a violin really is something you would never find there.

Jose Cardenas: The exhibit itself has been on display for some time at the museum. And it will continue to be there for some time to come. How did you come about to decide that you were going to bring the musicians themselves?

Daniel Piper: Sure. We saw this as an opportunity because we noticed there being such a tremendous public interest in this story, as soon as the documentary teaser came out, as soon as we started talking about this story, outside of Paraguay, people were sending emails, people were sharing this nationally and internationally. It just really resonated with a lot of people. So this was an opportunity as we were sitting down with the documentary team as well, we thought, wouldn't it be wonderful if these children could come and see their own exhibit, see how their work is being honored at a major institution in the United States, and then also to give them an opportunity to interact with the Phoenix public, perform, also to work with local students of the same age, in this case we were partnering with the Arizona School for the Arts, also an elementary school, and through that sort of cultural exchange, we developed a really powerful program with Fabio Chavez, the director of the orchestra.

Jose Cardenas: When is this going to take place?

Daniel Piper: This will start on Wednesday, August 7th, with the concert, and then the programs run through Saturday August 10th.

Jose Cardenas: And the concerts at the MIM itself, I'm not sure a lot of people realize in addition to being a museum the MIM has performance space.

Jose Cardenas: We have a wonderful, 300-seat performance space, concerts with national, international artists every week. And the acoustics there are remarkable. So it's an opportunity for a real intimate experience with the recycled orchestra.

Jose Cardenas: You have a lot of things to reach out to the community, one of them is family day.

Daniel Piper: Family day is a great opportunity, because -- This is going to be an all-day event on Saturday in which we will have a couple opportunities for the recycled orchestra, will perform, demonstrate their instruments, talk about the work, we also have a local artist who is -- Makes sound sculptures from materials that are recycled and repurposed, and perform and creates these installations. So the public can actually, one of his pieces will be able to play that, play that installation. We also have instrument making crafts for the public all day, and an exhibit dedication in which I, and the director of the orchestra for Paraguay, will talk and show the exhibit to the public and honor these children, you know in their first U.S. visit. The first time they'll be here in the United States.

Jose Cardenas: You made some reference to collaborations with local schools, Arizona schools for the arts, what are they going to be doing? As I understand, one of the things they'll do is go with their counterparts in Paraguay to our own landfill here in Phoenix.

Daniel Piper: Exactly. This was part of the idea, because of course the idea -- What we do with our trash and recycling is very different in Latin American countries than the United States and Phoenix in particular. So both the Paraguay kids and the Arizona school for the arts kids will start by getting a tour of the north transfer station through the Phoenix department of public works, and then from there after seeing that experience, will go and have a workshop where they will be making instruments from recycled materials they have selected, and also that's -- Our local artist Joe Willie Smith has provided, and also materials from Phoenix department of public works.

Jose Cardenas: And then as I understand it, at the concert itself, the students from the school for the arts will be performing at least for a couple of --

Daniel Piper: Exactly. Coming out of this experience of working together they will come -- Have one or two pieces of repertoire on Friday and Saturday night and will be asked to come up on stage and join the kids from Paraguay.

Jose Cardenas: How can people get more information about the visit and ways they might participate and again, particularly for family day?

Daniel Piper: Sure. They should visit at our website we have a landing page with information about all the programs. And also our box office is open for concert ticket sales, we still have a couple hundred tickets for our Wednesday night concert as well.

Jose Cardenas: And I'm sure it will be a sellout. These kids are fantastic. Thanks so much for joining us to talk about it.

Daniel Piper: Thank you.

Jose Cardenas: That's our show for tonight. From all of us here at "Horizonte," I'm José Cárdenas. Have a good evening.

Dr. Daniel Piper:MIM Curator, Latin American and the Caribbean;

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