From Junk, Beauty- The Story of Thrift Store Symphony


Andrew Panik, above, and his brother Michael find musical inspiration in thrift stores. (courtesy/Thrift Store Symphony)

By Katie Cline

Ever since they were young, Michael and Andrew Panik have loved a few things: thrift store shopping, music, and Ms. Deanie Purkey.

Early in their lives, Tom and Deanie Purkey took the Panik family under their wings and adopted Michael and Andrew as their honorary grandchildren. In fact, the boys admit that, without Deanie, the idea for Thrift Store Symphony may never have happened. It all began when the boys started tagging along with on her thrift shopping ventures. They fell in love with thrifting and the rush of finding incredible products for next to nothing: TVs for $20, fully functional speakers for $15 – so much more variety than the clothes she had always brought home.

“This was like the great secret that the world had been keeping from me,” Michael said of his first trip to a thrift store.

A few years after that fateful first trip, the elder Panik decided that it was time to incorporate the brothers’ other love – music – into the thrift shopping equation.

michael“One day we walked into Big Saver Thrift Store in Birmingham,” Michael said, “and there was a whole line of little junk keyboards, and there was a big piano at the end. Everything that made noise they had together. And I just thought, ‘I want to bring my little portable recorder into a thrift store and overdub all these things and record a song.’ I don’t know. It just came to me in that moment.”

And in that moment, Thrift Store Symphony was born. Michael is a senior at Jacksonville State University majoring in broadcast communications with a minor in music, and his younger brother, Andrew, just graduated from Gadsden City High School and will be attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the fall to study film. The brothers’ mutual love of film is partly what inspired Thrift Store Symphony. The ultimate goal, if all goes accordingly, is to create a documentary to premiere next fall and an album that embodies the saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” proving that everything has value if you take the time to recognize it.

“I think we need to stop using the ‘J’ word,” Andrew said, “because the whole point of this is that what you find in thrift stores is not junk. Junk’s kind of a bad word. ‘Junk’ implies that nothing else can be done with it, but the point here is that you can make something out of anything. These instruments are not junk, they just need a new purpose.”

Michael added, “We have to stop thinking about the value of something in a universal sense. Somehow in your mind you’ve been convinced by our culture, our world, that shiny and new is better. This is a deeper theme, a deeper idea, because this isn’t just about stuff. People have value. A human life has a value, but we throw arbitrary values on human life. Now’s a good example. We use words like ‘terrorist’ and ‘hero.’ We use words like ‘role model.’ We use words like ‘thug,’ anything we can find to try to put a descriptor on a person, because we’d rather not think about that person, but it’s arbitrary in the same sense. Thrift Store Symphony is a call to arms to think and evaluate what the value of something is.”


So, if not junk, then what are those items cluttering shelves and aisles at thrift stores nationwide? “From junk, beauty,” is a phrase the brothers have been using from the beginning to answer that question, a phrase that has helped Thrift Store Symphony accrue more than 2,800 followers on Twitter and Facebook.

“It’s an idea that has really struck a chord with a lot of people,” Michael said. “I think a lot people understand this need to make something beautiful out of something that’s not.”

But even the best laid plans with the most generous outpouring of support can go awry, and Thrift Store Symphony is no exception. The brothers started an online fundraising site to fund a summer road trip where they will film and record their music. Unfortunately, the fundraiser came up short earlier this month, and the Paniks had to start their financial endeavors over. Still, even with a failed Kickstarter campaign behind them, Michael and Andrew are confident in their ability to make their trip a reality.

“We didn’t make our Kickstarter goal,” Michael wrote on the project’s blog on June 8. “So what does that mean? Well, only that we’re broke. We didn’t fail. It’s not over. We’re not dead yet. We just didn’t reach our Kickstarter goal.”

Andrew added, “It’s going to happen even if we have to walk and get a little red wagon to pull our equipment.”

Michael, Andrew and their cameraman and friend Jay Dial, are set to leave on July 11, and while their complete trek can be seen on their website, the journey includes such culturally diverse destinations as New Orleans, Nashville, and Chicago and will surely be an adventure of epic proportions for both filmmakers and viewers alike.

To learn more about Thrift Store Symphony, visit the website, and if you’d like to support the Panik brothers in their quest for recycled musical magic, they are more than happy to accept donations of money or food. If you have a van that you would consider selling, donating, or renting to the cause, or if you have video editing skills, those would also be greatly appreciated. E-mail Michael Panik with questions or offers. 


Andrew Panik picks in a Thrift Store. (courtesy/Thrift Store Symphony)