I play music, I teach music, I run a music shop, and I’ve done these things (and plenty more related to them) for so long that I didn’t think the music world had any big surprises left for me. I was wrong: Last April I sat down to watch a YouTube video about a children’s orchestra in Paraguay that left me astonished. I thought I knew musicians, audiences, and instruments, but seeing that video was eventually to open up a whole new musical chapter for me, and more importantly, was to bring some major changes to the orchestra itself.
The Orquesta de Reciclado de Cateura, or the Landfill Harmonic, as they are known in the video, is an orchestra made up of children who live in the tiny enclave of Cateura, Paraguay, a place surrounded by an enormous landfill that serves the country’s capital city of Asuncion. Their violins, cellos, trumpets and all the other instruments they play are constructed from objects found in the landfill that otherwise dominates their community’s lives. Their video has had well over one million hits – not bad for a place whose streets don’t appear on even the local maps.