Bash the Trash
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Bash the Trash

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 1992 | SELF

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 1992
Band Alternative Children's Music




"Everything Old becomes New Again"

(go to URL to read article) - Englewood (FL) Sun

"One man's trash, another man's trumpet; Roving recycler teaches kids to make musical instruments"

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? If you're John Bertles, you can probably find something in the trash that will help.


"I build my musical instruments out of the things people throw away."

Bertles has been traveling the country -- with a stop at the Discovery Center in Springfield on Saturday -- with his unique vision of turning trash into music.

"This is my day job," Bertles said while standing in front of a desk full of plastic bottles, metal conduit, a broken tennis racquet and other odd pieces of junk.

Minutes later, Bertles put a few of those odd pieces together and began to make a variety of unusual sounds.

The kids in the auditorium of the Discovery Center laughed and clapped at the surprising noise of a balloon stretched over a cardboard tube.

"That is definitely a sound that will drive your parents crazy," Bertles said, "which is always nice when you're a kid."

He went on to show a horn made from a garden hose, a xylophone made from a drawer and a flute from a drinking straw.

For more than 20 years, Bertles has been part educator, part musician; showing kids how to be good stewards of the environment while having fun.

"It's getting them to think differently about everyday things they tend to throw away," he said before his 45-minute show.

A large part of Bertles presentation was a lesson in the science behind musical instruments, but few kids in attendance noticed they were learning.

"It was cool," said Graham Elbert, 3, as he shook the noise-maker he made after the show.

Graham's mother, Erika Elebert, was sure he would be experimenting more once they got home.

"This is absolutely wonderful," said Norma Matthews, whose grandson, Miles, 3, was blowing a horn he made out of paper towel rolls and file folders.

"It's time for the parade," Bertles shouted, banging on a five-gallon bucket.

The kids' faces turned red as they blew their garbage horns and marched through the top floor of the Discovery Center.

Bash the Trash Environmental Arts provides classroom workshops and residencies under the umbrella of Carnegie Hall, the Guggenheim Museum, New York Philharmonic and others. - Springfield (MO) News-Leader

"A Musician who finds a Melody in his Trash"

HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON— JOHN BERTLES is a serious musician, with all the credentials to prove it. He hears music where others might least expect to find it: in empty coffee cans, hollow cardboard tubing, broken kitchen tiles and raw lumber. Old refrigerator bins send shivers up his spine; discarded desk drawers set him humming.

On Thursdays -- "junk nights" in this village -- Mr. Bertles walks the streets looking for garbage. The materials he takes back to his basement workshop here are turned into musical instruments for Bash the Trash, his performing group. It is known for its distinctive sound: assorted bangings, bongings and clatterings.

Mr. Bertles has a master's degree in composition and uses trash in children's classes, which he teaches at places like Carnegie Hall and the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. On View Through Feb. 6

Mr. Bertles's inventions include the cafooba, a marimba made of catfood and coffee tins; the bendjo, a tall stringed instrument with a refrigerator bin attached for amplification; the gong tree, made of a spaghetti pot, a serving tray and a refrigerator bin, and the styrobass, a cookie tin attached to styrofoam.

Other creations of his can be seen as well as played at the Gallery at Hastings-on-Hudson here, in a show called "Ingenious Instruments." The exhibition, which runs through Feb. 6, also includes percussion, string and wind instruments made by six other artisan musicians, most of whom work with traditional materials.

A video performance by Bash the Trash, Mr. Bertles's ensemble, can also be seen at the gallery. (The group performs in Manhattan, Vermont and elsewhere.) A Passion for Recycling

Mr. Bertles, an ardent environmentalist, says his urge to do something original coincided with a passion for the notion of recycling. And he has friends out there, other adherents of what he calls the "garbage esthetic."

"This stuff is becoming more and more legitimate," he said recently, as he demonstrated the art of making xylophones from wood and foam rubber. "Composers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get computers to make the kinds of sounds we can get from this junk."

The Gallery at Hastings-on-Hudson is open from noon to 5 P.M. Wednesdays through Sundays. Those who want more information can call the gallery at 478-4141.

Photos: Playing an "oboe," right, made from a drinking straw, and the cafooba, above, made of cat-food and coffee cans; John Bertles playing the bendjo, right, complete with amplification from a refrigerator bin, and the gong tree, part spaghetti pot, serving tray and bin; Playing cardboard tubes, left, and preparing wood, above, for use as a xylophone.
- The New York Times

"Environmental Educators Bash the Trash, Merge Environmental and Music Education"

I had the opportunity to see a really fun group perform an assembly at St. John's Parish Day School this week. They are called "Bash the Trash" and they are a group of artists/educators based out of New York City and dedicated to raising environmental awareness through the arts while making connections to science, math, literacy, humanities and social issues.

The program I saw focused on teaching kids about music – and every single instrument was hand created from recycled trash.

From the second that Bash the Trash took the stage the kids were enthralled, attentive and laughing…before even a sound was uttered by the performers.

It all started with one of the three performers making rock star antics on stage, and he had the kids' attention immediately. As the sounds began, the audience heard what sounded like wind instruments. But what the performers were playing when they appeared in different parts of the room were actually things like a garden hose attached to part of a ketchup bottle (clean!) and a long metal pipe attached to a cut-off soda bottle.

They played for a number of minutes before they even began talking, and the mixture of instruments included old metal refrigerator doors, cardboard carpet tubes, pipes, bottles of all shapes and sizes, wires, rubber bands, hubcaps, plastic bins, conch shells and much more.

Immediately recognizable instruments were xylophones, flutes, horns, a cello and drums – all made from everyday trash.

It was fascinating stuff. The three educators that performed for the group of kids that I saw shared over 28 years of experience between them, with one being part of the group since the beginning over 20 years ago.

Our program was titled "A Sound Environment" and Nathan, Skip and Martin talked to the kids about keeping the earth clean – focusing on the 3 Rs. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. See the whole world as your playground that you need to care for and keep clean.

Nathan, Skip and Martin taught us about "The Science of Sound" and how sound is changes by simple things such as flattening the carpet tubes instead of leaving them round on one end, placing pipes on a soft surface rather than holding them, and most importantly we learned about vibration creating sound, and harnessing those vibrations by using boxes, Styrofoam and the like to make it easier to hear.

They focused the program on each instrument family – percussion, wind and strings – showing and playing instruments from each group to amazing result. I have never seen such a large group of young children pay such close attention for such a long period of time!

Importantly, Bash the Trash encourages the kids to look after the earth, and to think of ways to reuse and recycle trash as well. They were challenged to go home and make their own instruments, and to think beyond that to artwork, toys, furniture, bird feeders and more, always keeping safety in mind first.

Bash the Trash Environmental Arts LLC was created in 1988 by John Bertles and first called the The Experimental Orchestra, providing classroom workshops and residencies under the umbrella of cultural institutions such as Carnegie Hall, the Guggenheim Museum and New York Philharmonic. They began providing larger performances in 1992, which brought about the name change to Bash the Trash, and by that time they were providing roughly sixty performances per year and many workshops to students around the tri-state area and up and down the east coast. After the performance at St. John's Parish Day School they were headed to another school in Silver Spring that afternoon.

Through their staff of about 10 educators, Bash the Trash currently reaches about 50,000 students, teachers and adults per year through performances, workshops, festivals, professional development sessions and other events. Their roster of teaching artists and performers includes musicians, visual artists, storytellers and dance and theater artists. - Ellicot City Patch

"Garbage in, Knowledge out as the Kids Bash the Trash"

VANCOUVER -- ‘You can’t preach at five-year-olds,” musician, composer, and pedagogical consultant John Bertles says with a laugh. “It just doesn’t work; at least, it’s a little hard to gauge the effect.”

A hyper-articulate man with an innovative educational mission, Bertles is well aware that the way to achieve his goals is to partly conceal them from his target audience.

He will visit Vancouver next week with his interactive children’s performance group Bash the Trash, for what just happens to be their Canadian debut, under the auspices of the Vancouver Recital Society. It’s far from your standard VRS recital, which sometimes features violins worth hundred of thousands of dollars; for these concerts, the instruments are handcrafted from everyday garbage.

“Twenty-two years ago I saw a need in the educational system for environmental awareness,” Bertles said. “The question was how to make it fun.

“Every human culture builds musical instruments from what is in their backyard — bamboo, clay from the river, interestingly shaped rocks. What modern society finds in its backyard is garbage. That’s where I saw our opportunity.

“We look very carefully at the musical implements different cultures build, and try to build garbage analogs of them. The key effect is that the kids look at our instruments and think, ‘I can go home and build that.’ So, without any overt preaching, we demonstrate how materials can be reused, and convey the three Rs of contemporary education: reduce, reuse and recycle.”

Beyond the environmental message, Bash the Trash concerts are also demonstrations of how the physical properties of musical instruments produce sounds.

“I’m originally a clarinet/bass clarinet player,” Bertles said, “and it wasn’t until I [was in] to graduate school that I had any inkling of how my instrument worked, by studying the science behind it. That’s not ideal. So we combine fun with elementary science, giving the kids very graphic demonstrations of how and why our junk instruments work. With luck, we persuade them that music is fun and that science is fun. The Vancouver concerts will concentrate on percussion, what we call Klunk the Junk.”

This means drums constructed from thrown-away cans, rubber-band-box guitars, coffee can shakers, and other less obvious musical uses for social detritus.

Despite the emphasis on fun, Bertles is very serious about what his group does.

“Medical scans have recently shown us a lot about how the brain works. When kids enjoy themselves while learning something, they keep the knowledge longer and have a deeper appreciation of it. So our nonsense and music and storytelling incorporate pedagogy on the very deepest level. Of course, you can’t tell young children everything about physics, that’s what graduate school is for. But everything we do tell them has to be true and accurate.”

Is Bash the Trash prepared for the passions that green issues evoke on the West Coast? Bertles acknowledged the group treads carefully on this political minefield.

“We did workshops in Portland last year, and got a real sense of how passionate people in the West are about these issues. We work as closely as possible to the current science of the environment, we try to take a really cautious line. We don’t go radically far in either direction; we stay with the scientific consensus.”

The group gets surprising support from the musical establishment.

“We don’t get a lot of push-back from the classical or jazz worlds. I think the reason we are so well accepted is because the classical music world is hurting, they are losing their audiences, so we’ve been embraced, at places like Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Centre and the 92nd Street Y, and by the more visionary booking agents, who put us in touch with groups like the VRS. These organizations see that we are serving a very real need here in a very constructive way.”

How would Bertles sum up the group’s missions statement?

“As social animals in our culture, young kids are very sophisticated in some ways. For us it’s a matter of focus on our goal: Take better care of your Earth; this is science; science is fun." - Vancouver Sun


Our first album - Think Big - is coming out 4/1/13.  In the meantime:

Check out our videos at our YouTube channel:

Promo video:

Festival show excerpts:

"Recycling Remix" parade excerpts:



Bash the Trash is the musical performing arm of Bash the Trash Environmental Arts, created and directed by the husband-wife team of John Bertles and Carina Piaggio. Founded in 1988, BTT EA provides environmental arts education and performances nationwide using music, theater, storytelling and visual arts.

As a band, Bash the Trash creates and performs with musical instruments made entirely from the detritus of our society. Not just a percussion group, we also build and use wind and string instruments extensively. BTT never uses electronics other than straight amplification - what you hear is what we got!

When you build instruments from trash, you have to deal with science, and we incorporate fun and simple environmental concepts into our exploration of the science of instruments. These between-music instrument demonstrations and accompanying banter have become trademark features of all BTT shows, expected by fans of the group. Optional hands-on instrument building workshop and audience-participation parade draw participants into the thrill of music-making.

The music itself is energetic, funny, and funky, featuring our unusual music instruments as well as the incredible vocal and performing talents of our versatile musicians. Bash the Trash has over 20 uniquely different performers with a wide variety of skills that we bring in according to the needs of the gig.
Original music by the bandmembers and wild and surprising cover songs make every show a thrilling and inspiring experience!

Band Members