• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous supporter has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Music That’s in All of Us

And suddenly the music burst through the borders.

This was in May of 1999, in a city in the Netherlands called Alkmaar. Laura Hassler, an American woman who had been living in the Netherlands for many years by then — who was a choir director and, in essence, the “town musician,” the organizer of public music events — had put together a concert for the town’s annual honoring of the dead of World War II.

But the bloody war in Kosovo was then raging: Thousands had died; nearly a million refugees were streaming across Europe. Its horror dominated the daily news and Laura couldn’t ignore it. She couldn’t simply focus on the war dead of half a century ago, not when the hell of war was alive in the present moment, pulling at her soul.

She decided, “We’ll perform music from the people suffering from war now — folk songs from Eastern Europe,” she told me. Her impulse was to reach out, to connect, somehow, with those suffering right now, on the other side of Europe. And something happened the night of the concert. When it ended, there was a moment of profound silence . . . and then, as the audience stood, applause so thunderous that the rafters shook. It went on for 20 minutes.

One of the musicians, a political refugee from Turkey, said to her afterwards: “This concert was special. We should put it on a train, send it to Kosovo and stop the war!”

And so it began, a Zen moment, a crazy idea. Within a few weeks, a peace group had donated office space and Musicians Without Borders — an international organization with the stated mission “to use the power of music to bridge divides, connect communities, and heal the wounds of war” — was born.

“Within a few months, we had enough money to rent buses and go to camps in the Netherlands for refugees from Kosovo,” Laura told me recently. Something profoundly necessary had manifested. “It had to happen.”

At the refugee camps, the musicians made music with children and performed again the beautiful folk songs from the region. They also brought donated violins, accordions, guitars. Refugees who were musicians were likely to have fled without their instruments. These donated instruments gave them their music back.

“This was run by passion,” Laura said. “We didn’t know exactly where we were going, but we knew what we were doing.” Within a few months the new organization was traveling to Sarajevo, in Bosnia, bringing instruments, connecting with local musicians, and making music with children in refugee camps. Building on these experiences, Musicians Without Borders worked toward a long-term project in Srebrenica, with children from both sides of a cruel divide, which had separated Serbs (in the city) and Muslims (in refugee camps). This was a divide created by war and enforced by politics and bureaucracy. But music was a way to start to bridge it.

“This is what we believed,” Laura said. “that musicians don’t identify primarily by nationality or religion, but as musicians. We’ll find musicians in all war -torn regions who feel this way, as we do.”

In Srebrenica, scene of a 1995 massacre in which thousands were killed, MWB’s Music Bus became the organization’s first long-term project and an example of how music could help to rebuild a society shattered by war. With the Music Bus, Musicians Without Borders had established itself internationally. A short while later the organization was invited to Palestine to present its work. It also came to the attention of UNICEF and currently it works with local musicians in six countries — Kosovo, Palestine, Rwanda, Uganda, Northern Ireland and El Salvador — all of them torn apart by war and cultural division and suffering long-term consequences.

“In the beginning, people laughed at us,” she said. “We had no basis, no funding. But we had a vision. We struggled to make it for years. But every time we were about to go under, we survived.

“Every person has music in them!”

And the core and heart of Musicians Without Borders lays itself bare. This is the passion that drives it, that drives Laura, who grew up as a child of activist parents in a cooperative community, where “we were always making music. It was part of my life. I was always setting up singing groups and leading them.”

Every person has music in them, crying to be released. And, Laura believes, music is a healing force that can and must be used to move humanity past the damage it has been doing to itself ever since war and conquest became the global norm.

“There are different ways of experiencing music, as we all know,” she has written, “but also very different ideas about what music is. In European related cultures the dominant idea of music has, over history, become ‘something’ outside the person, to be taught and learned, practiced, perfected, held to a standard of quality and achievement.

“. . . a relatively few people are ‘artists,’ of whom a very few are ‘top artists’; but most of us are not — we’re listeners. And many listeners would tell you that they cannot make music.

“There is another way of perceiving music which many cultures, including earlier European cultures, share: that music is in the middle of all life, a basic element of being human, one that plays a continuous role in the life of the community and of every person in it. Inherent in this understanding of music is that, just like the capacity for language, music is part of our DNA and ‘doing’ music is part of human existence. It is what we do as we work, play, love, celebrate, suffer, mourn. You might say that we are music: from the rhythm of our heartbeat, our breath or our walking or dancing step, to the perception of tone everywhere in our lives, to the melody of our voices: music is in our bodies and in our spirits. . . . Music is a universally shared human trait, and all people have it in them.”

This is the future — a part of the enormous change pushing humanity beyond itself, beyond what it thinks it knows. Paul Hawken, author of Blessed Unrest, described this enormous becoming in a TED Talk: “It’s so new we can’t recognize it. We’re so familiar with armies and governments, wars, churches and religions. There’s no precedent for what we’re doing. . . .

“In the 20th Century: big ideologies stalked the earth, clad in armor. They fought for the control of our minds, of our land, and it wasn’t pretty.

“This movement is humanity’s immune response, to resist and heal political disease, economic infection and ecological corruption caused by ideologies. It is about possibilities and solutions. Humankind knows what to do.”

This movement . . . maybe it has a million pieces. We’re putting humanity back together in a new way, in a way that values Planet Earth and the soul of humanity. When Musicians Without Borders started becoming known, Laura said, she began receiving emails from musicians from all over the world, saying in essence: “Can I work with you? This is why I became a musician.”

Somehow I’m not surprised. The music’s in all of us. So is the desire to connect, to create peace, to save the world.

More articles by:

Robert Koehler is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 15, 2019
Victor Grossman
The Berlin Wall, Thirty Years Later
Raouf Halaby
Kurdish Massacres: One of Britain’s Many Original Sins
Robert Fisk
Trump and Erdogan have Much in Common – and the Kurds will be the Tragic Victims of Their Idiocy
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal in the Levant
Wilma Salgado
Ecuador: Lenin Moreno’s Government Sacrifices the Poor to Satisfy the IMF
Ralph Nader
The Congress Has to Draw the Line
William A. Cohn
The Don Fought the Law…
John W. Whitehead
One Man Against the Monster: John Lennon vs. the Deep State
Lara Merling – Leo Baunach
Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Not Falling Prey to Vultures
Norman Solomon
The More Joe Biden Stumbles, the More Corporate Democrats Freak Out
Jim Britell
The Problem With Partnerships and Roundtables
Howard Lisnoff
More Incitement to Violence by Trump’s Fellow Travelers
Binoy Kampmark
University Woes: the Managerial Class Gets Uppity
Joe Emersberger
Media Smears, Political Persecution Set the Stage for Austerity and the Backlash Against It in Ecuador
Thomas Mountain
Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Wins Nobel Peace Prize, But It Takes Two to Make Peace
Wim Laven
Citizens Must Remove Trump From Office
October 14, 2019
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
Class Struggle is Still the Issue
Mike Miller
Global Climate Strike: From Protest To Power?
Patrick Cockburn
As Turkey Prepares to Slice Through Syria, the US has Cleared a New Breeding Ground for Isis
John Feffer
Trump’s Undeclared State of Emergency
Dean Baker
The Economics and Politics of Financial Transactions Taxes and Wealth Taxes
Jonah Raskin
What Evil Empire?
Nino Pagliccia
The Apotheosis of Emperors
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A Passion for Writing
Basav Sen
The Oil Despots
Brett Wilkins
‘No Friend But the Mountains’: A History of US Betrayal of the Kurds
John Kendall Hawkins
Assange: Enema of the State
Scott Owen
Truth, Justice and Life
Thomas Knapp
“The Grid” is the Problem, Not the Solution
Rob Kall
Republicans Are Going to Remove Trump Soon
Cesar Chelala
Lebanon, Dreamland
Weekend Edition
October 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
CounterPunch in Peril?
Anthony DiMaggio
Fake News in Trump’s America
Andrew Levine
Trump’s End Days
Jeffrey St. Clair
High Plains Grifter: the Life and Crimes of George W. Bush
Patrick Cockburn
Kurdish Fighters Always Feared Trump Would be a Treacherous Ally
Paul Street
On the TrumpenLeft and False Equivalence
Dave Lindorff
Sure Trump is ‘Betraying the Kurds!’ But What’s New about That?
Rob Urie
Democrats Impeach Joe Biden, Fiddle as the Planet Burns
Sam Pizzigati
Inequality is Literally Killing Us
Jill Richardson
What Life on the Margins Feels Like
Mitchell Zimmerman
IMPOTUS: Droit de seigneur at Mar-a-Lago
Robert Hunziker
Methane SOS
Lawrence Davidson
Donald Trump, the Christian Warrior
William Hartung – Mandy Smithburger
The Pentagon is Pledging to Reform Itself, Again. It Won’t.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail