For many years, I have viewed music as something more than just something enjoyable. It can be used to minister, to serve, and to teach. My time in undergraduate at Washington Adventist University reinforced this believe, where I was part of an orchestra who’s motto was a quotation from J. S. Bach that says, “The aim and final end of all of music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”
Our conductor later summarized it this way, “Music is least of all entertainment, and greatest of all service.”
While the organizations I am working with here in Brazil are not religiously affiliated, these are sentiments that I feel still shine through in their work. Students are not simply being taught music, they are being given a chance to “expand and improve their personal and professional goals… and consequently their society” (my translation from Programa Aprendiz’s website: http://aprendizmusica.com.br/). Music is being used to service not only those who participate in these groups, but all with whom they come into contact.
Programa Aprendiz specializes in teaching elementary music education and appreciation to kids in Niteroi’s municipal elementary schools. Besides this, Aprendiz also has chamber ensembles and larger performing groups: Orquestra Guerra-Peixe, a training orchestra; Orquestra de Sopros, a wind ensemble; and Orquestra Sinfônica Aprendiz, the advanced orchestra. In a country where appreciation for music education was not a cultural norm, Aprendiz has been extremely successful in its work, currently being present in 23 schools of the city and serving 3000 students.
Aprendiz has monthly performances for their city government donors in which selected individuals are featured in chamber ensembles or as soloists. I attended this month’s performance yesterday and let me tell you, I was blown away by the level of musicality and musicianship of these students. (Watch one of the pieces here on my YouTube channel: http://youtu.be/DyOT0RYGi7E)There was a young man who played a movement of the famous J. S. Bach Cello Suite in G Major BWV 1007 who was spellbinding. Another young man, the concert master of the OSA, performed a movement from a Vivaldi concerto accompanied by a small group of strings and the audience loved it so much they asked him to play it again as an encore!
Later that same day, I had the opportunity to attend a rehearsal of another orchestra called Orquestra de Cordas da Grota (String Orchestra of Grota). This orchestra is the result of a vision of its founders, Marcio Selles and Leonora Mendes, who decided to bring music to the favelas (slums) in Niteroi. What started as a ragtag team of individuals has, in ten years, grown into a full blown string orchestra (they have six violas!!) that regularly performs in the area, records CDs, and travels nationally and internationally. They don’t have trashy instruments either – all the instruments used by the members were donated towards the cause and are of excellent quality. (See them in rehearsal here: http://youtu.be/mr2Nn3Ms_0Q)
To come from a Brazilian slum and end up owning your own instrument, traveling the world performing and playing beautiful music, is that amazing? Look at the power of music in service!
Orquestra de Cordas da Grota has literally changed the lives of its players. During a short break from rehearsal to have some snacks, I had the chance to speak to the first viola player, Nick. “Music is my lifestyle,” he told me. “It’s what I love.” He’s not sure where he would have been without this group, without music, but now he knows he has a future.
Today I attended a rehearsal of Aprendiz’s Orquestra Guerra-Peixe, who’s members are younger and less advanced in their instruments and yet manage to produce great music. Most of these kids are at that awkward stage of life when a lot of things are changing for them and it can result in shyness and uncertainty. Put an instrument in their hands, however, and they seem to become new people – confident and adventurous. Yes, they still have a long ways to go but at least they are on their way.
Learning an instrument develops more than musical ability and know-how. Its creates confidence, teaches discipline, challenges problem solving skills, encourages interaction, and develops a community where members have a sense of belonging.
Viewing music as service towards individuals and their local communities is what drives these organizations. To change the life of one person is to change the life of a community. What better tool is there than music? Its a gift that keeps on giving. By its nature, its meant to be shared and therefore has an enormous amount of influence. Music is naturally inclined to be used as service.
After reading about the groups, wouldn’t you agree?