The world can be a challenging place.
From disease to poverty; from war to climate threats to the fight for equality across all interpersonal lines, we humans have got a hard row to hoe. When the going gets tough, the tough usually get something amazing going, and as much as we can hurt, we can also heal. Over the millenia we’ve become very good at sussing out what works when we need it to.
One of the most powerful proven recuperative forces in the world, we know, is music. Oliver Sacks (RIP) knew it, Robert Burton knew it – hell, even Hippocrates and Plato knew it, and since we’ve had problems, we’ve had melodic ways of working through them. Schizophrenia. Heart disease. Brain injury. Autism. Depression.
There’s virtually nothing music can’t help with. The next time you’re feeling charitable, have a peek at the websites of some of the most beneficent music organizations out there. Send them a check. Write them a nice letter. Buy them all coffees.
We’d surely be poorer without the work that they do.
- National Youth Orchestra of Iraq
Labeled by some as The Bravest Orchestra in the World, the NYOI is a collection of mostly self-taught musicians from various religious and cultural backgrounds all over Iraq. Using music as a means to transcend boundaries – the group includes Sunnis and Shia, along with Christians and Kurds – the orchestra represents a remarkable show of compassion in one of the most challenging and dangerous culture clash regions of the world.
That they don’t share a common spoken language, or even have a physical space to rehearse in (they use youtube to practice and to audition to avoid terrorist attacks and fundamentalist violence) is no hindrance to their progress; they have performed for audiences in many parts of the world. A bona fide testament to the power of music and its ability to bridge otherwise unspannable chasms.
- Guitars 4 Vets
Founded by a Vietnam war veteran, who credits playing his acoustic guitar while stationed overseas with helping him to stay sane and connect with fellow troops, Guitars 4 Vets has potentially saved thousands of lives.
PTSD, the demon which haunts countless survivors of intense situations, and is rife among former soldiers previously stationed in combat areas, is a psychological illness which can be crippling. It can lead to job loss, relationship breakdown, alienation, hospitalization, drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness, and very often, suicide or self-harm.
Now in their fifth year, Guitars 4 Vets have given away over 2000 free guitars to troubled veterans, along with more than 20,000 free lessons, turning the destructive into the constructive through the power of music.
- Cateura Orchestra of Recycled Instruments
In a South American slum built on a landfill, something very interesting is happening.
Kids are learning to play classical music on pieces of trash.
That’s right – trash.
Ascuncion, Paraguay teacher Favio Chavez has spent the past six years training local children to play instruments made from various types of rubbish found on the endless mountains the ghetto is built on. He recruits residents – whose job it is to sort and recycle the trash – to bring him useful items such as oil drums and tin cans that he can modify into musical instruments. They even have saxophones made from gutters.
Chavez says the program offers all members of the poverty-stricken community a wider perspective. Kids stay off drugs, out of gangs, child labor and sometimes worse, while parents are inspired to kick their own addictions and pursue formerly abandoned goals of training and education.
They’ve even made a movie out of it. See it here: http://www.landfillharmonicmovie.com/
4. Musicians Without Borders
“War divides. Music connects.”
This is the motto of perhaps the most powerful music program out there today. All over the world, NGO Musicians Without Borders works with local musicians and organizations to build long-term, sustainable music programs which utilize the therapeutic nature of music to help those most in need.
From divided communities in Northern Ireland to HIV/AIDS sufferers in Rwanda, MWB’s projects and initiatives help people communicate what words can’t convey. Through music lessons and jam sessions, the group fosters hope and understanding, giving them an outlet for passion and expression, relieving them of the burden of worry for awhile.