JUNE 2016: Paraguayan Children Prove the Power of MusicJUNE 2016: Paraguayan Children Prove the Power of Music
By DAPHNE BRAMHAM
A decade ago, it would have been inconceivable that a 10-year-old girl like Cinthia Servin would be playing a violin, let alone playing with an orchestra before sold-out crowds in Vancouver.
It is because of an extraordinary gift from Favio Chávez. He introduced beauty in the form of music to the harsh lives of nearly 10,000 people who squat in an unofficial town at the edge of Paraguay’s largest landfill.
Families like Cinthia’s eke out a living by scavenging. There is no electricity and no potable water. What little they have comes from the dump. They sell what they can and repurpose the rest. Everything comes from the garbage — the material for their homes, their clothes and now musical instruments like Cinthia’s violin.
There was no music when Chávez, an environmental consultant, arrived in 2006 to help families earn more money from their recycling efforts.
He played the violin and conducted a youth orchestra in his hometown of Carapegua. So, when he began casting about for an example of how different pieces of garbage can be transformed into something of greater value, he thought of a violin.
The first was made from a roasting pan, a spaghetti strainer and some found wood. “It sounded good enough,” Chávez says with a smile.
When schoolchildren brought lunch to their parents at the dump, Chávez started teaching them how to play. “It was more like a game. Very few had a real desire to learn music.”
Soon, there were many more violins. A bass was fashioned from a chemical drum; flutes were conjured out of water pipes, spoons, forks and coins.
“For this community, it was not so weird to go to the landfill to find what they needed to make instruments,” he said through a translator during an interview in Vancouver. “Music became a necessity.”
Soon, there was music everywhere, with an orchestra and a music school where students graduate from “informal” instruments to “formal” donated instruments and where the more advanced musicians are paid to teach the little ones.
In 2012, a video made to raise money for the documentary, Landfill Harmonic, about the nascent Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, went viral on YouTube.
Invitations to perform started to arrive and members of the orchestra — in groups of 10, 15, 20 and up to 30 — began to travel with Chávez as its full-time conductor and director of the music school. Every child in the 60-member orchestra gets a chance to travel. It’s not about the quality of their playing, it’s about giving them an opportunity to get beyond the landfill.
They’ve travelled around the world, entertained the Pope and performed with heavy metal bands, Megadeth and Metallica.
“It (the video) put tears in our hearts and minds,” Janos Mate told me earlier this week. Because of it, Mate helped found the Vancouver-based Instruments Beyond Borders. It was IBB that brought the orchestra to Vancouver for two sold-out concerts that helped raise $30,000. Of that, $20,000 will go to support the 60-member Cateura orchestra, 200 students in the music school and the scholarship program; $10,000 will go to the Saint James Music Academy and its students in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Chávez lyrically describes unused instruments as “quiet instruments that have to find a voice.” Anyone who has some can drop them off at Tapestry Music at 3607 West Broadway Street and IBB will distribute them to the two music academies.
But it’s hard to imagine that those formal instruments will sound any better than Cinthia’s paint-can violin. The writing is still visible, the paint that it once held was odourless.
Through a translator, Cinthia told me that none of her siblings play music. While they work at the dump, Cinthia has been able to perform in the United States, Spain and Abu Dhabi.
Her goal of becoming either a professional musician or a veterinarian is attainable because of the confidence music has given her and because of the orchestra’s scholarship program.
Because of Chávez’s simple act of creating a violin out of scraps, people in Cateura now see and hear the power of music every day.
That is so different from here, where music education seems under constant threat of having its funding cut. That surprises Chávez.
“These kids in Cateura, they have no security. They have very humble houses. No jobs. No education security. Everything is unknown. For them, music is essential."
“Why is it not for somebody who lives in a wealthy city like this? Why would they not consider music an important part of their children’s development?”
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