How can we use music to heal and inspire communities in the aftermath of war, conflict, and division? That was the topic of this year’s Global Forum Networking Breakfast, an interactive panel session sponsored by Music Canada and one of the marquee events of Canadian Music Week 2016, held on May 6th at the Sheraton Centre in downtown Toronto.
The event brought together delegates from not only across Canada but also the United States, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, highlighting Canada’s importance in the international music community and its significance in the global dialogue around the power of music to heal and bring people together.
The morning began with a powerful keynote address by Laura Hassler, Founder and Director of Musicians Without Borders, a Netherlands-based nonprofit organization that uses music education to assist communities recovering from war and conflict. Ms. Hassler told the story of the Mitrovica Rock School, a music school co-founded by her organization in the “most divided city in Europe,” Mitrovica, in Northern Kosovo, a region that had been divided since the Kosovo War in the late 1990s. Delegates listened as Ms. Hassler recounted sneaking students across the Ibar river in order to unite young musicians from the northern Serbian-majority region and the southern Albanian-majority region of the city. According to Ms. Hassler, the joy of playing music began to form the common denominator in these students’ lives, allowing their apparent differences to fade away. She ended the keynote with a clip from The Architects, one of the Rock School’s breakout successes—featuring three members from the north and three from the south—and evidence that music has been able to bridge Mitrovica’s cultural and political divide.
After the keynote, Ms. Hassler was joined on stage by Andre Le Roux, Managing Director of South Africa-based SAMRO Foundation, Andrew Mosker, President and CEO of National Music Centre in Calgary, and Lee Whitmore, VP, Education Outreach and Social Entrepreneurship at Berklee College of Music in Boston for a panel session moderated by former CBC anchor Nancy Wilson. The Panelists spoke about their own experiences using music as a tool for social good, as well as the potential and the challenges of their work. Mr. Le Roux, in particular, connected the dots between the cultural division in Mitrovica after the Kosovo War and his own experience in South Africa, where the effects of social exclusion and economic division have persisted long after the abolition of apartheid.
The discussion largely revolved around reaching younger generations through music and using it to overcome historical divides, economic disadvantages, and other challenges faced by youth in a given country. Questions from the audience helped to broaden the discussion to the role of music for people with disabilities, the elderly, and those who might benefit from music therapy. Another theme that was emphasized throughout the day was that music allows peoples’ identities to transcend those assigned to them by a given conflict. In Mitrovica, then, a Serbian guitarist and an Albanian vocalist are not just a Serb and an Albanian as they are on the city streets: they are musicians and, often, bandmates.
Unsurprisingly, panelists agreed that funding for arts-based initiatives remains a major challenge, but also that technology offers new, affordable mechanisms for spreading the power of music. Moreover, events such as the Global Forum, and Canadian Music Week more generally, allow for new ideas, new avenues, and new partnerships to be formed.
The panel was followed by a question period and then by a working session, where delegates had an opportunity to discuss the issues with the members of their table. This was a wonderful chance to brainstorm with industry professionals from around the world, and reminded delegates that their own voices and perspectives are a critical part of the dialogue on music education.
We want to thank Music Canada and Canadian Music Week for putting on an important and thought-provoking event, and for giving us the opportunity to attend and participate.
Brendan Monahan is the IPilogue’s Multmedia Editor and a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School. Sebastian Beck-Watt is the IPilogue’s Content Editor and a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.