Print Edition: May 21, 2014
It’s Mother’s Day, and while most of you are enjoying the warm sun and brunching with family, 800 people have packed themselves like sardines into Abbotsford’s Central Heights Church.
Everyone is waiting eagerly for 17 young people who have come from Cateura, a slum in Paraguay, to play instruments handmade from garbage. Abbotsford is the last stop for the Recycled Orchestra’s 50-city Canadian tour, and people are excited.
The Abbotsford Youth Orchestra takes the stage, opening the concert. After two short pieces, Global Family Foundation representative Mike Duerksen briefly explains that the funds raised from this tour will go to build a community centre in Cateura, allowing children the opportunity to get a “Christ-centred” education while also aiding the local community.
Finally, the Recycled Orchestra is formally introduced. The young band enters the sanctuary to a standing ovation and cheers. The orchestra is all smiles and dressed in simple blue tops and black pants, but it is the bright and misshapen instruments in their hands that catch my eye.
Violins made from pieces of tin, baking pans, and forks. A cello built from an oil barrel and a wooden spoon. A guitar imagined from sweets containers. As each instrument is described, I squint to catch a closer glimpse. I am fascinated to see these precious instruments built from the pieces of life people throw away.
The orchestra’s depth of musical knowledge is revealed as the audience is treated to songs ranging from John Lennon’s “Imagine” and The Pink Panther theme song to classical ballads. One of the highlights of the evening comes when an orchestra member plays a duet on her saxophone — made from a construction pipe, knives, and coins — with a pianist from the Abbotsford Youth Orchestra. Though the two could not speak each other’s language, they were able to find common ground in their music. In fact, the power of music is the driving force behind the orchestra’s conception, allowing children the opportunity to overcome the poverty, abuse, and lack of opportunity that comes with a life lived in a landfill.
Each note of the Recycled Orchestra stands in direct contrast to the Abbotsford Youth Orchestra who took the stage before, but the two do not have to compete. The tinny resonance of the high notes and the at times off-tune melodies do not detract from the overall experience; every song is unique and full of colour.
People begin to slip out of the crowded sanctuary as the novelty fades away and young children grow more restless — but I stay entranced until the very end. The concert closes with an infusion of warm Paraguayan culture as the orchestra plays several South American pieces. Their liveliness permeates the audience, enticing several people from their seats to dance in the aisles and at the front of the sanctuary.
After the event, Duerksen notes that “talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity isn’t,” and the truth of these words hits me hard after my afternoon spent listening to the Recycled Orchestra.
These teens are talented, and their trip to Canada represents a chance for them to share their gifts in order to help their families and community back home.
“For the orchestra it’s been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They have travelled before, but this is the first time they’ve travelled where they’re bringing something back for their community,” Duerksen concludes. “They’re fundraising to build a community education centre. So, they’re not only benefitting the orchestra but [they’re] benefitting all of the families in that community.”