Author: Ramos, Jean

One Manís TrashÖ

Iím sure most of you are familiar with the story of Landfill Harmonics, the childrenís orchestra from Cateura, Paraguay, if not hereís the short backstory.

The village of Cateura is a slum, actually a trash dump. The people there make a meager living by salvaging and recycling reusable items from other peopleís trash. Their destitution results in violence, alcoholism, child labor and other social ills. A local musician, Favio Chavez came up with a plan to help the children of this village, to give them hope for a better future. He started a music school. Of course there was no money for real instruments so along with a humble garbage picker, they started to make instruments from trash; violins and cellos from oil drums, flutes from water pipes and spoons, and guitars from packing crates. The Landfill Orchestra has gained worldwide attention and has brought powerful social transformation to this small community. Google Landfill Harmonics and you will be blessed.

Itís interesting that music is what is bringing joy and hope to these people who had none. This has been true in my life and Iím sure it has done the same for many others. To my way of thinking, music is as necessary to survival as food, clothing and shelter. I believe we are created with a need for music. If you give a toddler a wooden spoon and a pot, you donít have to show him what to do with it, he will automatically turn it into a drum.

Throughout the ages, mankind has created instruments for making music. I have several Native American instruments in my collection. One is an Apache fiddle made from the hollowed out stalk of the agave plant (also known as century plant). It has one string made from a small hank of horsehair and the bow is actually a bow shape with horsehair, imagine that. I have a flute that has a hand carved horse head on the end. Iíve made rattles by stitching damp rawhide into a balloon shape, filled it with sand and let it dry. Once dried, I put little pebbles and shells inside and lashed on a handle. I have also made rattles from hollowed out deer hooves. Of course a collection of native instruments would not be complete without drums; rawhide stretched over a wood frame and I have several rattles made from dried out gourds.

Before European contact, the natives used plant and animal materials native to their area. After receiving trade goods they began recycling materials such as tin cans. The tin was used for making little cones for ornamentation, baking powder cans were used for making rattles, and tobacco cans were also a valuable commodity.

There are people who like the challenge of creating musical instruments from recycled materials. The washtub bass is common, but have you seen a bass fiddle made from a gas tank? Iíll bet it really resonates. How about the cigar box banjos? Ever heard of a Canjo? The Zydeco bands like to use a rub board and thimbles for a rhythm instrument. We are only limited by our imagination.

Recycling is good for our environment too. Recently my friend Susan Elston posted a picture of a nice shopping bag that she has crocheted from strips of plastic grocery bags. Anyone who is a fan of the craft pages on Pinterest has seen recycling at itís best; toilet paper rolls to organize your electrical cords, rain gutters hung on a fence made into a lettuce patch, tin cans made into luminaries, and the list goes on. I have made bracelets and other adornments out of recycled guitar strings. Does anybody know what I can do with an old bicycle chain?

Iím writing this column early because Iíll be at Plymouth. Hopefully, Iíve had a chance to jam with some of you this week. If not, Iíll see you at the Fall Camp-Out in Lodi, Lord willing. Come by and weíll recycle some of our old songs.

Posted:  9/22/2013

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