The Enterprising Spaniard Turning Junk into Musical Instruments for Children in Need

This enterprising Spaniard is changing the lives of those at risk of social exclusion.

4550-034“Imagination and enthusiasm have to be the main tools in order to transform waste into music,” says Fernando Solar, a Madrid native and third-generation luthier (translation: a string instrument craftsman).

“Sometimes it seems like life wants you to go back to your roots. I am in the world of violins because I was born and raised among varnishes and chips. It was with my grandfather, Fernando Solar Gonzalez, that it all began,” he recalls. “At just eight years old, in a small village called Pravia Asturias, he was fascinated to see a violinist playing on the street.”

Heading back home, Fernando’s grandfather gathered wood scraps and debris – including a boot sole – and built his first-ever violin.

It was essentially the first violin of the Fernando Solar Company. Skipping ahead nine decades or so, grandson Fernando now crafts instruments in his Madrid store front. Aside from his more traditional creations, Fernando also makes instruments out of repurposed materials for the social project La Música del Reciclaje, which translates to ‘The Music of Recycling’.

“I had discovered the recycled orchestra of Cateura [in Paraguay] after seeing a video on the internet and I found it amazing how people with limited resources were able to find the materials necessary to build instruments and form an entire orchestra,” says Fernando.

Fernando Solar

Luthier Fernando Solar

That documentary, Landfill Harmonic, tells the story of the Orchestra of Recycled Instruments of Cateura, a musical youth group that now tours the globe. The orchestra exists thanks to the shared vision of two young men – one who was working on a recycling project in Cateura, at one of South America’s largest landfills, the other a local garbage-picker.

When Ecoembes, a Spanish non-profit that promotes recycling, contacted the director of the Orchestra of Recycled Instruments of Cateura and brought them to Spain to perform a concert in Madrid, Ecoembes liked the project so much they decided to begin their own and reached out to local education leaders.

Like their Paraguayan counterparts, the Spanish La Música del Reciclaje selects schools with students who are at risk of social exclusion for the project. Funded by Ecoembes, the project provides mentoring services in addition to the instruments and music tuition.

The orchestra was established in 2014, and now teaches 80 students at two centres in Madrid. The children learn how to both build instruments with recycled materials and to play their own creations.

“It is very difficult to change a life but I think it’s easy to take that step to try to make someone’s life a little less difficult, even if it is just for a moment,” says Fernando. “What I do see, perceive and feel is the joy and excitement that goes on during classes and concerts. Together, music and recycling bring those moments of joy.”

In 2015, the orchestra played for the then Queen of Spain, Sofia. “The Cateura Project fascinated me from the first moment I heard of it. Now I could be a part of it in Madrid,” says Fernando.

A piece of Fernando's work

Some of Fernando’s detailed work

“In La Música del Reciclaje, my job is to transform waste into instruments that resemble those built by hand at my workshop,” says Fernando, who has 35 recycled creations to his name. His studio has become a “collection point” for cans, forks, strainers and all manner of hardy materials.

“The floor, chairs and work benches are covered with containers and other items that are used to try to reproduce the maple and spruce instruments hanging in my window.”

Speaking about his experiences with the children of La Música del Reciclaje, he chronicles the “beautiful stories” that emerge when music plays. “When one of the kids makes you laugh, you realise that every effort you put into the project is worthwhile. Although sometimes the kids come to orchestra sad for whatever reason, with music we try to have fun and enjoy ourselves as much as possible.

“I work to bring hope to the people who smile back at me by creating recycled music,” says Fernando.

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