The Mad Man and the Recychestra

Mission's Boris Sichon is inviting others to experience his newest project: an orchestra made from recycled instruments

Boris Sichon has hundreds of different instruments in his home in Mission. Although this instrument is made from a ram’s horn, many more are fashioned from recycling Sichon has found throughout the years. 📷 Grace Kennedy

This story first appeared in the June 12 edition of the Fraser Valley Current newsletter. Subscribe for free to get Fraser Valley news in your email every weekday morning.

Boris Sichon’s garage is filled with music. 

It might not look that way on a quiet Friday morning in Mission, when the only noise comes from the creaking of the garage door and the twittering of a bird outside. But inside, hiding amongst the labyrinth of teetering shelves and overflowing boxes, there is song.

“Let’s find for you,” Sichon said, rummaging through a pile of bags and cases at the front of his garage. He moved a bag, then unzipped another one. “Ah, here we go.”

He pulled out a single ram’s horn, carefully cleaned and constructed by Peruvian musicians. The grey bone spiraled and shone as Sichon put it to his lips. 

Mellow and warm like honey dripping from a spoon, the music filled the driveway then floated into the lane. Sichon pulled the horn away from his mouth and smiled. 

He examined the horn, explaining how it was made into an instrument, describing how different ways of holding your mouth can make different tones, different colours, different sounds. Just like with a seashell, he said.

“You play seashells? I have tons of seashells,” he said, putting the horn back on the pile. Then, he was off to find another instrument hidden in his maze of a garage.

It wouldn’t be hard. Sichon had already pulled out a similar spiral horn, made from PVC pipe fittings rather than bone. And concealed in the maze of boxes and bins were hundreds of others: a necklace of bones, an empty oil can, several dozen spoons, and a pair of spatulas. 

“It’s a second life for all these things,” Sichon said. “That’s what I love … the recarnation.”

Boris Sichon’s garage is filled to the brim with future musical instruments, even if it only looks like boxes and piles of recycling. 📷 Grace Kennedy

Long before Sichon had a garage full of musical recycling and a collection of hundreds of different instruments, he had music in his bones. 

Growing up in Ukraine in the Soviet Union, Sichon learned to play percussion at a music-focused high school. After graduation, he left for St. Petersburg in Russia to attend the Academy of Music, where he began working in the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra. There, he performed under conductors like Yevgeny Mravinsky and Shostakovich. (No, not that Shostakovich. Although he jokingly includes the last name only on his website, Sichon actually performed with the famous composer’s son, Maxim Shostakovich.)

Sichon began working first with the Jewish chamber musical theatre in Moscow, and then the Russian National Folkloric Band. As he started to travel, he collected instruments from each country he visited, learning how to play each new type he encountered. 

Then, in the early 1990s, he heard Stomp.

Created by Brighton percussionists Steve McNicholas and Luke Cresswell, Stomp electrified theatres with performances that were part dance, part music, and all performance. Brooms, barrels, matchsticks, and other improvised instruments created the basis for the pulsing sound that sent Stomp on sold-out shows around the world. 

Sichon was hooked. He participated in a workshop with the group in Brighton, where they infected him with their sound. 

“They can make sound out of everything,” he said. “It depends on your attitude. If you want to make music, you can make music everywhere.”

For the next 30 years, Sichon plunged into the spirit of Stomp. He tested flutes made out of cardboard, drilled a carrot into a clarinet, and turned PVC pipe into didgeridoos.

When he moved to Canada in 2004, Sichon brought with him more than 300 instruments. At his new home, he soon began fashioning more out of recycling. He also started hosting workshops for Mission kids through Art Starts, a youth program that saw him make shakers and rhythm bones from household items. He performed several times in the Mission Folk Festival; he burst onto TikTok to teach others how to play Elvis tunes using a panflute and olive oil bottles

Then, he met Mark Haney. 

Sichon is many things: a father, an immigrant, a musician, a teacher. A mad man.

“I say this in the most positive way possible,” Haney, Mission’s arts and culture manager, said. “He’s a madman, in the best way. Everyone knows Boris.”

Haney, a double bass player and composer, joined the City of Mission’s arts and culture department a year ago. One of the first things he was told to do was have tea with Sichon. 

He did. Sichon decided to capitalize on it.

“I pushed him into … terra incognita—unknown,” Sichon said about his meeting with Haney. “I said, ‘Hey let’s improvise. Forget about all these rules about classical music. Just be yourself, express yourself in the sound.’”

The pair had an immediate connection.

“It didn't take long for Boris and I to realize that in many ways, we're kindred spirits,” Haney said. Shortly after, they began brainstorming on ways Sichon and the city could collaborate and turn Sichon’s love of recycled instruments into an opportunity for other residents.

“He saw all my craziness, all these experiments, and he said, ‘Hey, let's do Recychestra.’ And so he invented this beautiful title for this project.”

The idea behind Recychestra is simple: a series of free workshops teaching people to make their own instruments, and ultimately perform them in concert. Participants will sign up for the multi-course series—although they don’t have to attend every session—and gradually become more comfortable with their chosen instrument.

The workshops will culminate with a performance at the Mission Folk Festival on Sunday, July 28 on the Ursa Minor Stage. The music they play will be a group composition, directed by Sichon. 

For Michelle Demers Shaevitz, the artistic director of the Mission Folk Music Festival, having the Recychestra project in the festival was a chance to “democratize the music-making process.” 

A selection of the brushes, spatulas, and rhythm bones Boris Sichon uses to make music less intimidating and more fun. 📷 Grace Kennedy

“The Recychestra project was an opportunity to combine that commitment to participatory, low-barrier music-making and our desire to produce our event as sustainably as possible,” she told me.

But it’s not just about getting people to make music with recycling. It’s about getting them to make good music with recycling.

“Boris's vision, that I'm totally on board with, is to move this beyond … where people essentially make shakers, and everyone has shakers, and you make a small performance out of that,” Haney explained. “We're really hoping to push the boundaries a bit and have people playing wind instruments made out of recycled materials, as well as percussion instruments and other kinds of things.

“A creative journey is the goal.”

At 70 years old, Sichon has spent most of his life learning. But he has also spent much of it teaching. Many of the boxes of recycled instruments in his home are designated for children’s workshops, at which he teaches kids how to make music with shakers and clappers and spoons and beads. It’s not just because kids are typically less-than-gentle with playthings. It’s because using recycled instruments relieves the pressure. 

“From my experience working with kids, the less you push the better result,” Sichon said. “But you have to be interesting. You have to be fun. You have to be like a kid when you start to walk with them.”

By bringing music back to the basics, clapping and stomping in a relaxed rhythm, switching instruments every few minutes, it opens their world to creativity. And that, for Sichon, is the most important part of making music. 

He pointed to young musical prodigies.

“You know, in old style, they say when you play violin, you have to stand like this,” Sichon stood up very straight and tense, “and you start to play six hours every day. Maybe, yeah.

“But what is the price for this?” he continued. “I'm sorry, they don't see life. They see only this bloody violin. And in the end of the day, they play like another thousand people.

“My question: is it about art?” he said. “You have to give them creativity. Only creativity.”

Boris Sichon demonstrates how to play the mouth harp in his Mission home. He has more than two dozen variations of the mouth harp, all from different countries. 📷 Grace Kennedy

Standing in the kitchen of his Mission home, Sichon pulled out a mouth harp, a small metal instrument that is reminiscent of a key. He put it to his lips and played. Then, he pulled out another. And another. Twenty-five harps, all slightly different, from Vietnam, Hungary, India, America, Germany, Russia, and elsewhere.

They sounded similar, an eerie vibration mixed with metallic twang. But also different. 

Sichon explained that sound is like language: although some instruments may speak the same words, they use a different accent. Like recycled instruments, I said. Sichon wrinkled his nose, but smiled. 

“But what kind of language, from Home Depot?” he asked with a laugh.

Aside from that one jab at his recycled instruments’ plebeian roots, Sichon spoke respectfully, even reverently about the music he drew from unusual objects. It was the sound that was important, not its origins.

“You have to respect not only music, you have to respect all these musical instruments. But why not respect all these objects?” he asked.  

“If you want to hear beautiful sounds, you can hear, if you're ready.”

The Recychestra program is set to get underway this July. Anyone interested in participating can email the Mission’s culture department at [email protected]. More information will be posted on Mission’s arts and culture page as the date gets closer. 

This story first appeared in the June 12 edition of the Fraser Valley Current newsletter. Subscribe for free to get Fraser Valley news in your email every weekday morning.


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