Constanza, how did you get the idea of setting up a charity that provides free music lessons for children?
The idea came to me after a concert at the Gasteig in early 2016. That’s when I saw Gustavo Dudamel again, then director and conductor of the Simón Bolívar Orchestra, which is the flagship of El Sistema’s network of orchestras. I was fascinated by how the young musicians, who all come from very different backgrounds, had grown together like a family. During the great influx of refugees in Germany in 2015, and with Pegida and right-wing extremism growing at the same time, I thought that we could also do with a project like that over here. My vision was that children with a migration background would play together with children of potential [populist right-wing party] AfD voters in an orchestra. What’s special about our project is that children from a wide range of social backgrounds can come to us, learn a musical instrument for free and play in our orchestra.
How does that work and what sort of people come to you?
The children first get to know the teachers and can try out different instruments to see which suits them best. By now, we have 50 instruments available – from violins to clarinets. Using pieces of music, the kids then learn the instrument as well as reading sheet music and the technical aspects. We consciously chose to not associate our project with school, as we wanted to offer a neutral setting where children from different schools, whose paths would not otherwise cross, could get to know each other. Here, in the supposedly wealthy Munich, the social gap is particularly wide. That makes it all the more important to have a project of this kind that brings together children from different social backgrounds.
What role does learning a musical instrument play for children?
What’s special about our concept is that the children learn from each other. A child who’s had lessons for a little longer than the others can show the next child how something is done. This gives the whole process a dynamism, as the children quickly learn from each other. It’s amazing how children’s self-confidence grows when they teach others. Playing together in an orchestra, with that feeling of being a unit makes for a tremendous sense of community. And classical music makes kids more sensitive and empathetic. They learn so much: to listen to each other, to take care of each other, to be patient; and it improves their concentration. They benefit from these values in their own lives, and ultimately the whole of society will benefit.
More about the project at consonanza.org
Text: Anna Steinbauer