Transforming lives through music

Lukas Pairon, founder of Ictus Ensemble and Music Fund, explains how he ended up on the frontlines of conflict and poverty

While I was general director of Ictus we regularly sent some of our musicians to music schools in the Palestinian Territories, Israel, and Mozambique. This was back in 2002 and we quickly realised that there was a great need for musical instruments in conflict zones. We got together our first collection of instruments in April 2005 and delivered 500 instruments being to Palestine and Israel.

The following year we established Music Fund as an independent non-profit company providing instruments to 16 partner music schools in eight different countries: Palestine, Israel, Mozambique, DR Congo, South-Africa, Morocco, Haiti and Belgium.

Over the course of the last eight years we have collected 3,200 instruments, repaired and donated 2,500 instruments, trained 10 repair technicians, and created nine permanent repair workshops.

Our role is on the supportive side; we provide people with tools, know-how and training, which they then use to create music of their own choice – whether Western classical music or otherwise, we are non-prescriptive.

The logistics of transporting instruments is always a challenge. Several individuals have come forward to volunteer as couriers to take small shipments in their hand luggage and deliver it to our partner music schools. We even have a network of volunteer pilots who take the odd instrument in their cockpit to deliver them across the globe.

We tap into existing networks of music schools, for example we are working with Al Kamandjâti in Ramallah, and we partnered with the Barenboim-Said Foundation and gave support to the Polyphony Foundation in Nazareth, set up by Nabeel Abboud-Ashkar.

I am now in the middle of a doctoral research on the topic of The significance of musical education for young people affected by conflict and violence. As part of my research I am spending a lot of time in Gaza and Kinshasa, following two social projects that aim to help young people through serious musical training.

When people consider music in violent surroundings there is a cliché that music soothes the soul, or that musical teamwork reflects the peace that comes from within. But we know at Music Fund that music education and performance cannot prevent conflict alone, and they cannot solely promote economic development either.

However, I do believe that well-structured music education can play a vital role in building, or rebuilding, a society. This is because the focus is drawn away from the misery caused by conflict and poverty through the focus on music and culture.

The music school in Gaza has been a important experience for me throughout this project: 60 per cent of the population are unemployed, meaning that the founding of the music school in 2008 was a struggle as well as a miracle. I was fairly sceptical about the affects music could have in Gaza until I realised that the young people who had music lessons seemed to be more positive and optimistic in life.

From this I have seen first-hand how music can affect the lives of young people in violent surroundings. Learning an instrument and learning to play in an ensemble or orchestra teaches you fundamental skills, as it requires concentration, discipline, and dialogue, which in turn influences societies in many positive ways.

When the rate of violence escalated in Intifada the young musicians strived to continue their rigorous music lessons and performances instead of accepting and accommodating the inevitable outcome of violence and conflict.

With Music Fund we found that an instrument is more than an object that you can simply give away – it is connected with memories and emotions: the donor, his or her children or deceased relatives may have played it for years, and so the donation is not a goodbye, but more the beginning of a new life for the instrument and somehow even a new relationship.

The donors like knowing where their violin, guitar or piano is going and who is using it, through this they can mentally travel with the instrument to an area of conflict or extreme poverty.

Pairon will be giving a talk on Music Fund and how it has helped music education with Robert Adediran from London Music Masters as part of the Amati Exhibition on Sunday 26 October at 5pm at The Lansdowne Club.