Drumming Up a Green Outlook

  • The Junkyard Symphony warms the crowd with their beats. They say recycling even a little goes a long way. (Photo by Karen Kelly)

It takes a keen eye to see the value in an old hubcap, a dented bucket or a broken bicycle horn. But when you’re searching for musical instruments, the junkyard can be an inspiration. Karen Kelly has the story:


It takes a keen eye to see the value in an old hubcap, a dented bucket or a broken bicycle horn. But when you’re searching for musical instruments, the junkyard can be an inspiration. Karen Kelly has the story:

It’s a winter weekend festival in Ottawa, Canada and it’s freezing. And there are a few things you can count on – ice skating, ice sculptures, maple taffy… but bongo drums?

(sound of drums fades in)

As you make your way along a crowded path, you catch sight of the band, and you realize…these guys aren’t playing bongos.

They’re playing on recycling bins. And they’ve got paint buckets hanging on either side of them. Those bottle caps taped to the top turn them into snare drums. And there are PVC pipes sticking out of the bin with metal bowls on top. Those would be the cymbals. And – believe it or not – they sound really good.


They’re called Junkyard Symphony.

Two guys, dressed in khaki-green jumpsuits, playing on instruments they made themselves. Jonny Olsen is the founder of Junkyard Symphony.

“Usually, what I do is go to the junkyard and look through the stuff and take my stick and bang on stuff and experiment with different sounds. I get a lot of ideas for bits in the show just from the props that we find. Just use your imagination, basically.”

Like a beat-up Cheer detergent box. During the show, Olsen picks a little kid out of the audience to hold that box up in the air. And the audience does what it’s told.

(Olsen leads crowd in cheering)

Olsen started Junkyard Symphony about 20 years ago, when he was in high school. But what started as an Earth Day project became a summer job that put him through college. After graduation, he tried to stop, but couldn’t.

“Once I was done, I had so many people calling for the show, and I’ve never really been able to stop it, beacuse I’ve had so many people calling. I wasn’t able to move on to anything else. They wouldn’t let me.” (laughs)

What really gets the audience going are the tricks. There are plungers juggled between the legs. And the audience is invited to throw tennis balls at a tube attached to Olsen’s forehead.

One of Olsen’s favorite tricks is to place a kid on top of a milk crate, hands together, straight up over their head. The drum rolls, along with hundreds of mittens.

The kid’s looking nervous, and Olsen – standing behind him – starts tossing hula hoops at him. Kind of like human horseshoes.

That’s what attracts people like Joe Vinchec on a freezing cold day.

“I find them very creative and hilarious, actually. Quite funny.”

Olsen says he’s got three goals for his show. He wants to expand it beyond Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto – where they play now.

He wants people to have fun.

And he wants people to think about reusing and recycling.

Some people have said he should move on to bigger issues, like climate change. Recycling is old news. But in Ottawa, where Olsen lives – and in many other cities – they’re running out of space for their garbage.

That’s why he argues everyday actions do matter.

“Every little thing you do adds up. Like when we first started Junkyard Symphony, we made our money on the street, by someone chucking in a quarter and eventually, all those quarters added up to my tuition. So if everybody just did little things, it would add up to having a cleaner environment.”

(sound back up)

Olsen blows into a homemade didgeridoo, and aims it at the nearest kid. (audience laughs)

It’s the traditional Australian instrument, but this one is made from a long piece of PVC piping.

Olsen doesn’t talk much during his show. And he definitely doesn’t preach. He believes if you inspire positive feelings – if you get them to laugh – you’re more likely to inspire people to take positive action, as well.

For the Environment Report, I’m Karen Kelly.

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