Staff Picks: Music
Just when it seems that we need some good news the most, this will warm your heart. Yesterday, NPR blogger Anastasia Tsioulcas caught my attention with a post about the Landfill Harmonic: An Orchestra Built from Trash. Through the efforts of a music instructor and a local craftsman, a group of hardworking kids in Paraguay have formed an orchestra using instruments made with materials gathered from beneath their very feet – literally.
The village of Cateura is a slum built on top of a landfill, where many of the locals make their living by collecting and reselling garbage. In a town where “a violin costs more than a house,” a group of students have formed an orchestra and are learning to play music. Orchestra director Favio Chavez works with a local craftsman who fashions violins, violas, flutes, trumpets and guitars out of discarded trash; oil drums, tin cans, spoons, bottle caps, you name it. Now this might sound like the makings of a bad circus band (no offense against circus music) but the result is nothing short of breathtaking.
The group is currently documenting their work in a yet-to-be released film; a short trailer for it was posted a month ago on YouTube and has already collected nearly half-a-million views. The film opens with a quote from Chavez, saying “The world sends us garbage. We send back music.” In addition to the video, the group has set up a Facebook page to help spread the word about the orchestra.
In a world where we generate a ton of solid waste per capita every fifteen months (and that’s just in America) while school budgets get slashed beyond recognition, it’s refreshing to see what can be accomplished if the will is there.
Here’s an extended version of their story. It’s fascinating, watch it…
Landfill Harmonic Orchestra
Richard Hawley is one of those singer songwriters that after hearing a couple of his songs, you wonder why he’s not a bigger name in the music world (he’s British, so that may explain it). After a brief stint playing guitar for Britpop hit makers Pulp in the late nineties, he set off on a solo career, culminating in seven excellent albums of wistful pop ballads soaked in lyrical reflection and reverb. Hawley’s voice is his greatest asset. He croons a bit like a throwback torch singer, sad and road weary, almost a kind of British Sinatra but with less swagger and more working class grit. His old school, rockabilly look is also suggestive of the influence of Elvis. His newest album, a bit of a sonic departure from previous albums, is less intimate and feels as though his ambient songs of forlorn pining have given way to a louder, more rock and roll Hawley.
Master musician and composer Ravi Shankar died yesterday at the age of 92. The iconic sitar player achieved worldwide fame during his long musical career, but remained a humble and dedicated student of music throughout his long life. Remember the life and music of Ravi Shankar through these KPL titles:
Ravi Shankar in portrait – DVD
The Very Best of Ravi Shankar – CD
Rare and Glorious – CD
Chants of India - CD
Raga @ fast track - CD
My Music, My Life by Ravi Shankar
Rare and glorious
When They All Played Ragtime: The True Story of an American Music was first published in 1950, it quickly became heralded as “the bible of ragtime” for its (then) insightful examination of an overlooked and all-but-forgotten American art form. While the book’s inevitable flaws have been the subject of controversy for decades since, authors Rudi Blesh and Harriet Janis succeeded in creating a groundbreaking initial study of the origins of ragtime music. The scholarly work of writers like Edward A. Berlin and others have since attempted to correct many of the inaccuracies and set straight the resulting misconceptions, yet They All Played… remains a vital resource for information about what Blesh calls “the first genuinely American music [and] in reality a milestone in musical history.” Thanks to the Friends, I was able to add a nice clean copy of the updated and expanded 1966 third edition to my own reference library.
Consider this little series my own version of “Flea Market Finds,” an ongoing report of the latest bargains unearthed in the lower level of Central Library. What a treasure we have (quite literally) in the Friends Bookstore. When you can grab high quality books, music, and movies for little more than pocket change, life is good. And all the proceeds go to a great cause, too. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!
They All Played Ragtime