Music of Hope in Serbia: Interculturalism at Work

by Djurdja Papazoglu, Founder and Executive Director, Music Art Project, and Secretary, Sistema Europe

Music Art Project (MAP) was founded in 2010 with the mission to contribute to the long-term development of society and culture in Serbia. Four years later, MAP launched the El Sistema-inspired program “Music of Hope” to help as many children and youth as possible appreciate music and enjoy its beauty together. In less than three years, Music of Hope has grown from 30 to 600 children in seven cities through collaboration with public elementary schools, music schools, and cultural and social-welfare centers.

Angel Hernandez in a masterclass at Branko Pešić School, Belgrade. Photo: Ana Nikolic

Our main challenge was to integrate our new approaches into the existing music curricula and to teach the music teachers to be open to innovation and more flexible in their work. Gradually, the creative application of the El Sistema methodology brought a fresh approach to music education, with a pronounced social inclusion component. Through our strategic partnerships, we have sought to create fruitful interactions between the “educated music” taught in schools and learning systems such as El Sistema. We designed our programs to nurture flexibility and experimentation because we believe this helps students and teachers develop rich musical knowledge through the creation of original pieces, online and live exchanges, collaborative rehearsals, and engaging performances.

MAP extended its reach in 2017 with the launch of a three-year Erasmus+ project titled “Pinocchio Joins the Orchestra.” (Erasmus+ is the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth, and sport in Europe.) In collaboration with partners in Portugal, Italy, and Belgium, we aimed to build a unique, inclusive cultural education program that would stimulate curiosity, attention, and solidarity with others in young participants and would arouse interest in technological innovations and a desire to participate in the research of innovative education systems.

We recognized that one of the natural ways to increase cultural interaction was to bring music to places where people congregate. With our partners, we identified the cities of Collodi in Italy (not by chance, the city of the creator of Pinocchio), Saint Maria da Feira in Portugal, and Novi Sad in Serbia, because of their important festivals devoted to street arts. The connection of training activities with festivals as occasions for comparison and growth is critical: young boys and girls travel to meet and play on the squares and streets, just as Pinocchio did.

Street Art Festival in Novi Sad, Erasmus+ Project.

Orchestras thus become vehicles of social inclusion. Public spaces turn into places for the interaction of diverse cultures, lifestyles, and backgrounds. As Pinocchio discovered in his journey, experiences of life in the public sphere, with all its challenges and diversity, are significant contributors to student development. As this project comes to a close, we plan to disseminate a Toolkit that will summarize our results.

At El Sistema Serbia, we recognize that there is still more to be done before we reach our goal of an inclusive society where everyone is free to take pride in their national and cultural identity, European or any other. We believe that nationalism proclaimed to defend cultural and geographic boundaries constrains our ability to achieve our dream. It is essential to continue to develop strategies that raise awareness for social inclusion, and to share our common values. Our new E.U.-funded project, “Tomorrow Starts Today,” increases our outreach efforts throughout Serbia.

Our teachers and students, regardless of national origin (including Roma or other minorities) or citizenship status (including those who are displaced or refugees), have something unique to contribute. We embrace this present and continue to work towards a society more welcoming of diversity, never leaving behind those who need support.

If you would like to learn more about our work, cooperate, or support us, do get in touch!

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