SEATTLE — In places touched by war, it can be hard for people to have hope in a future free of unspeakable violence and unimaginable loss. The nonprofit Musicians without Borders believes in the power of music to help restore hope and life to communities affected by war.
The central tenet of Musicians Without Borders is that music is the ultimate healing tool for those whose lives have been ravaged by war, because hope is the key to being able to reclaim their lives. Music is an especially effective means of fostering empathy, connection and community, which are essential to creating lasting social change.
Following the axiom that music is a universal language, creating music within a community unites all of its members, regardless of their individual differences. With the motto “War Divides, Music Connects,” Musicians without Borders has developed community programs and initiatives in numerous locations around the world that have pioneered the utilization of communal music as a means of strengthening social harmony.
Musicians Without Borders engages members of the community through communal music programs such as community choirs, drum circles and rock bands. Additionally, the organization promotes enhanced music education in local schools and runs separate music schools that teach individual and group lessons.
These programs are founded and initially led by Musicians Without Borders representatives, but a key principle of each initiative is that members of the community are trained to lead through music so that the organization’s philosophy can organically expand.
Though each program is tailored to reflect the unique needs of its location and target community, the scientifically proven ways in which the psychosocial properties of music are able to help reduce the immediate stress and anxiety caused by the trauma of violent conflict are universally applicable.
According to Lis Murphy, who set up the U.K. branch of Musicians Without Borders, “music changes the heartbeat, breathing and hormone levels and… it has a chemical effect on the body and brain.” These physiological responses allow people engaged in communal music to — at least temporarily — forget their pain and fear and simply enjoy the moment.
Making music with others has further emotional benefits. Murphy states that “the emotional connection of music enable[s]people to express things that were too difficult to say in words, allowing them to find a connection with something that brought them moments of joy and moments of sorrow that were more important than ethnic differences that had been exacerbated because of the conflict in that region.”
Musicians Without Borders was founded in 1999 by Laura Hassler, a U.S. musician and social activist. Hassler was moved by what she witnessed of the Kosovo War while living in Europe during the 1990s, and decided to create an organization that united her passions through a network of musicians in the region that worked to lead people to reconciliation.
Today, Kosovo is home to the Mitrovica Rock School, where aspiring young rock stars are able to come and make music together across ethnic divides. The Rock School offers lessons and band coaching sessions and connects youth through inter-ethnic workshops. More than 900 youth have attended the Mitrovica Rock School since it was founded in 2008.
Palestine Community Music hopes to inspire reconciliation along the West Bank through its multifaceted program that offers music-based activities to underserved youth in the area. These initiatives include Music and Nonviolence Leadership training, Rap for Social Change, as well as music workshops for the deaf and children with special needs.
Rwanda Youth Music was developed to support the needs of children and young people living with HIV. The opportunities afforded to young patients for positive creative expression and social empowerment through musical interaction has proven to be a highly effective means of therapy. This initiative has inspired numerous Rwandan musicians to pursue music therapy training, and in response, a training course accredited by the University of Rwanda has been created.
In addition to Kosovo, Palestine and Rwanda, Musicians Without Borders operates programs in Uganda, the Netherlands and El Salvador.
– Savannah Bequeaith