Staff Picks: Music

Landfill Harmonic: Orchestra Recycled

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.

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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…

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Landfill Harmonic Orchestra
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http://www.facebook.com/landfillharmonicmovie

Sometimes It IS Easy Being Green

I am a grown man in his thirties with no children and I can unabashedly say that my most anticipated pop culture event of 2011 is the forthcoming movie The Muppets.  Both my wife and I were raised watching The Muppet Show, which aired from 1976 to 1981, and we developed a deep appreciation for creator  Jim Henson’s sense of humor, which managed to cater to both children and adults while remaining cheekily subversive.  Other Muppets projects like Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, Muppet Babies, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth were all enduring, but between the original TV show and the first three feature films (The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan), our hearts belonged to Kermit and the gang.

But after the shocking death of Henson in 1990, quality control of the Muppet brand went downhill.  Suddenly, the Muppets were being plugging into existing stories like A Christmas Carol, Treasure Island and The Wizard of Oz.  These puppet-infused literary adaptations lacked true imagination and creativity—two things the Muppets themselves had long represented.  Ownership of the Muppets changed hands a few times.  During these dark days, it was most certainly not easy being green.

And then, sometime at the end of the 00s, a potential (and unlikely) savior emerged for the Muppets: a comic actor known for his goofy charm and often crude sense of humor named Jason Segel.  The How I Met Your Mother star had just come off the success of the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  Wanting to capitalize on his cachet, Hollywood suits approached him and asked what he wanted to do for his next project.  And of all things, he said he wanted to make a Muppet movie.  Turns out, Segel, too, grew up watching the variety show and missed the days when Kermit and Co. had been relevant and irreverent.  Disney, who had purchased the brand, was more than happy to oblige.  That film, loaded with guest stars and smart humor, opens November 23rd and will hopefully re-launch Henson’s greatest creations back into the pop culture zeitgeist.  I, for one, will be there opening day.

In the meantime, however, Disney has taken a step towards promoting the film by gathering together a group of alternative artists and producing Muppets: The Green Album.  This collection puts a modern spin on some of the Muppets most beloved songs.  Weezer and Paramore’s Hayley Williams perform “The Rainbow Connection,” alt-rock group The Fray pulls off the catchy “Mahna Mahna,” and My Morning Jacket covers “Our World.”  Other artists featured are Andrew Bird (“Bein’ Green”), Matt Nathanson (“I Hope that Something Better Comes Along”) and The Airborne Toxic Event (“Wishing Song”).  But the albums best songs belong to Alkaline Trio’s fast-paced road song “Movin’ Right Along,” Sondre Lerche’s groovy “Mr. Bassman” and the ever-inventive OK Go’s cover of the “Muppet Show theme song.”  (Check out their video below.) 

Green is great for nostalgic fans as well as being a fantastic introduction for a new generation of Muppet enthusiasts.  I can only hope that Segel has succeeded in making the Fuzzy Ones witty and inventive again.  Even though I still have over a month of anticipation before the movie comes out, this album is helping to get me through the wait.

 

Music

Muppets: The Green Album
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