Switzerland’s decision to include the right to music education in its national constitution should not have surprised many people. This constitutional amendment requires both the federal government and regional cantons to do everything in their power to give children and young people access to musical training. It embodies a view about the importance of music that resonates from Europe to Latin America, and from ancient times to our contemporary world.
Sages in ancient Greece, China, India and Renaissance Europe emphasized the importance of music for the formation of character, the balance between body and spirit, the connection with other beings and even the healing of sickness. In fact, over the last few decades, youth orchestra initiatives around the world have broken new ground in proving the power of music to enhance lives.
Could music contribute to tackling deep-rooted social problems like poverty and discrimination? Results have demonstrated that the idea of the “orchestra as a school of life” allows people to discover the fundamental formula for personal and collective progress: the “entrepreneurial spirit”.
From the moment a child holds a musical instrument for the first time, he or she becomes a member of an orchestra. Beauty is produced within an ensemble, while musicians learn to adapt to different circumstances and establish norms of working together. Entrepreneurial values such as initiative, confidence, creativity, the capacity to take risks, sensitivity to the needs of others and critical thinking are developed. This new attitude is automatically translated into their everyday life, and in the majority of the cases, is passed on to their families and friends.
Hundreds of global projects intend to eradicate poverty and illiteracy and improve health, society and the environment; but they will only thrive if the beneficiaries have an entrepreneurial spirit.
One of the most effective tools to encourage entrepreneurship is “education through art”, a system employed centuries ago by Jesuits in South America. Examples of this pedagogy feel like a foreshadowing of modern projects in this area. The Jesuit missionaries found in the artistic language—especially in music—the ideal vehicle for education. By manipulating musical instruments, reading music sheets, carving sculptures or performing in plays, students indirectly learned math, literature, science, history and geography, while exercising their discipline, planning and teamwork skills.
Concrete examples of these programmes exist in various countries today; some have become public policies. Not many people would imagine that the Venezuelan programme of youth orchestras strongly contributes to the reduction of teen pregnancy. The solitary voice of José Figueres, President of Costa Rica during the mid-1970s, asked “why tractors without violins?”, balancing the obsessive search for economic well-being without cultural education. “If we become rich and do not have culture, we won’t know how to enjoy our wealth; if we aren’t successful in the project of wealth but do have culture, we will know how to live our poverty with dignity.” Programmes such as my own, Sonidos de la Tierra (Sounds of the Earth) in Paraguay aim to nurture not only good musicians, but also good citizens: entrepreneurial, creative idealists who are engaged, respectful and have a vocation for service.
The progress of a town is not measured by its GDP, the number of beds in its hospitals or stoplights in its streets. The progress of a town is measured by the happiness of its people. Music matters more than you might think.
Author: Luis Szarán is Founder and Director of Sonidos de la Tierra, Paraguay, and a Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 Awardee.
Image: Yorgelis Aponte (R) and classmates attend violin lessons at a youth orchestra music school in the neighborhood of Carapita in Caracas June 3, 2008. REUTERS/Jorge Silva