Pure Rubbish Music

Worship Leader and musician Adam Kukuk, inspired by the Landfill Harmonics shares a story of music that is ‘Pure Rubbish’…

Pure Rubbish MusicLast summer I led a workshop that promised an experience of excellence in worship. I had one request of the attendees: bring a medium size trash can from your church to the workshop. Often we believe that the bigger and better the resources, the bigger and better the worship. But what if we redefined excellence as the measure of a people’s encounter with God, as opposed to the degree of musical-theatrical precision? What if trash cans can be excellent?

Imagine a different kind of worship. Close and lock the organ. Roll away the piano. Give the conservatory-trained organist and the slick guitarist the week off. Tell the opera singer, the drummer, the violinist and the bass player they’re not needed today. Now take away the pulpit and the lectern. Set the microphones and speakers back in their cases. In fact, just leave the building. Go find a dry grassy hill and sit together.

What’s left when we take it all away? Is there anything left of worship?

On another hill, a world away in Paraguay, is Cateura, a slum built on a landfill. Here, Favio Chavez leads the Landfill Harmonic. This collaboration of craftspeople and musicians fashions violins and cellos out of other people’s trash. They refashion the refuse under their feet into life-giving hope for the children of their community.

As Cateura’s children learn, play and care for their recycled instruments, they also grow in their knowledge, confidence and hope for the future. “The world sends us garbage. We send back music.” They are currently fundraising to film a documentary raising awareness of the issues of poverty and waste pollution. Music, community, education and hope. Excellent.

“For God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, what is low and despised in the world, the things that are not, to reduce to nothing the things that are...”
1 Corinthians 1: 27, 28

During last summer’s workshop I invited eight attendees to come to the front of the worship space with their trash cans. I handed each a big mallet and said, “Play with me!” A raucous rumble ensued which quickly solidified into a steady pulse. Clergy, lay people and stunned musicians played with mischievous grins as we launched into “Halle, halle, halle”. We sang with joy, felt the spirit’s presence, and a few tittered as if we were getting away with something slighty naughty. It was not precise, but it was excellent. Let every dust bin praise the Lord.

In your congregations, try crafting worship that costs nothing. Here are three places to start:

1)  Pray in silence
Allow generous time (2-3 minutes) to listen to the Holy Spirit, together. Donʼt limit the use of silence to confession. Pray for each other, your community, and the world. When we sit in silence long enough to quiet our fidgeting, we can experience a deep communion with God and one another.

2)  Sing a cappella
Every congregation knows a few songs they can sing from memory. Turn off the organ, close the piano lid and relish the sound of your people and place. It wonʼt sound like a recording and it might be a little tentative. As you sing week after week, your people will find and embrace their voice, a unique offering of praise.

3)  Bang on a can
Borrow, buy or make a nice big drum mallet. Then have fun exploring your church or local hardware store. Turn over every trash can you find (removing any trash first) and give it a few good whacks. Be discerning, some trash cans are acoustically superior to others. This might be a good opportunity to use your professional musicians. Next, take a medium-size plastic container with a lid and fill it 1/3 full of dry beans or un-popped popcorn. Close the lid. Sit a “drummer” (with trash can & mallet) and a “shaker” (with plastic & beans) next to each other. Have them alternate: BOOM. Shake. BOOM. Shake at a medium speed until you have a steady beat. Proceed to sing “Joyful Joyful we adore thee”; “Every time I feel the Spirit”; or “Your favourite hymn” over the ongoing rhythm. This technique will work with any number of participants: just divide them into two groups, start the rhythm, and then add the singing.

Engaging participatory spiritual renewal. Cost = £0.

God takes what is nothing, even less than nothing, even garbage, and makes it excellent, better than excellent, sacred.

Adam Kukuk is a multi-instrumentalist and composer who leads worship and workshops exploring participatory music and liturgy. Visit the Four Doorways website to find out more on his work.

To learn more and support the Recycled Orchestra, have a look at the Landfill Harmonic website.