We need inspiring stories to stoke our hearts, and these two fit the bill! These two conductors are using music to promote peace and understanding. Luis Szaran is a Paraguayan musician who is changing the lives of poor children by teaching them to play music. Daniel Barenboim is the famous pianist and conductor, who created an orchestra of Arab and Israeli young musicians, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Their concert in Ramallah in 2006 was an achievement that confounded logistics and expectations. Some of us were lucky enough to hear the Orchestra when it performed in Providence in 2007.
In “Sounds of Hope,” FRONTLINE/World reporter Monica Lam journeys to Paraguay to meet Luis Szaran, a famous musician and social entrepreneur who has dedicated himself to helping redeem the lives of poor and neglected children through music.
As the son of a Paraguayan farmer, and one of eight children, Szaran rose from humble beginnings to become the conductor of Paraguay’s national symphony. With a lifelong passion for music and with a desire to give back, Szaran set up the Sonidos de la Tierra [Sounds of the Earth] music program five years ago to teach music to orphans, street kids and other underprivileged children.
This heartwarming story not only reveals how music has changed the lives of many of these children, but how Szaran has created what he calls “a network for social change” in his country, where communities are coming together and organizing through music.
“You need to understand that Sonidos is not only about good musicians, but also about good citizens,” Szaran says. He has established music schools in more than a hundred communities across Paraguay and is now expanding into five other countries.
Dios te bendiga, Maestro!
the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra:
The West-Eastern Divan is a youth orchestra based in Sevilla, Spain, consisting of musicians from countries in the Middle East, of Egyptian, Israeli, Jordanian, Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrian background. The Argentine-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian-American academic Edward Said founded the orchestra in 1999, and named the ensemble after an anthology of poems by Goethe. The aim of the West-Eastern Divan is to promote understanding between Israelis and Palestinians and pave the way for a peaceful and fair solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Barenboim himself has spoken of the ensemble as follows:
“The Divan is not a love story, and it is not a peace story. It has very flatteringly been described as a project for peace. It isn’t. It’s not going to bring peace, whether you play well or not so well. The Divan was conceived as a project against ignorance. A project against the fact that it is absolutely essential for people to get to know the other, to understand what the other thinks and feels, without necessarily agreeing with it. I’m not trying to convert the Arab members of the Divan to the Israeli point of view, and [I’m] not trying to convince the Israelis to the Arab point of view. But I want to – and unfortunately I am alone in this now that Edward died a few years ago – …create a platform where the two sides can disagree and not resort to knives.”
One of the young musicians of the orchestra reinforced this point:
“Barenboim is always saying his project is not political. But one of the really great things is that this is a political statement by both sides. It is more important not for people like myself, but for people to see that it is possible to sit down with Arab people and play. The orchestra is a human laboratory that can express to the whole world how to cope with the other.”
Although Barenboim claims that the purpose of the orchestra is not to achieve peace, it certainly goes a long way to promoting it, to bringing people together, and to challenging the status quo. Bravo maestro!