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Musicians without Borders was founded in 1999 and registered as a charitable foundation in 2000. The motto of the foundation is “war divides, music connects ” (Musicians without Borders, 2017). This motto is reflective of the purpose of the foundation, which is to unite people and communities through music. Musicians without Borders has established a range of music programs in numerous war-torn communities including Soy M ú sica in El Salvador, Mitrovica Rock School in Mitrovica and Kosovo, Music Bridge in Northern Ireland, Palestine Community Music in Palestine, Rwanda Youth Music in Rwanda , Welcomes Notes in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, and Community Music and Health in Uganda (Musicians without Borders, 2017). Laura Hassler, the founder and director of Musicians without Borders, studied cultural anthropology and music at Swarthmore College. She worked for the Friends (Quaker) Peace Committee and the Committee of Responsibility on Vietnam in Philadelphia, Thich Nhat Hahn’s Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation in Paris, and the US Fellowship of Reconciliation in New York in the 1970s. In 1977, Hassler moved to the Netherlands where she founded a World Music School and later founded Musicians without Borders in 1999 (Musicians without Borders, 2017). This essay explores the Mitrovica Rock School initiative, which was established in August 2008 with the aim of providing a “neutral platform for youth from both sides of ethnically divided Mitrovica to meet as young musicians and aspiring rock stars” (Peace Direct, 2016). In particular, the success of this initiative in achieving its social goals will be measured as well as the extent of the outcomes. Ultimately, the Mitrovica Rock School initiative will be critically evaluated to determine its effectiveness in bringing about positive social change.
The idea of the Mitrovica Rock School arose after the Kosovo War, which divided the ethnic groups inhabiting the area. This conflict disrupted the strong rock music heritage of the country with severe consequences, as discussed by Burgess in 2016:
Rock musicians were no longer hired for gigs or festivals and there were no more recording contracts or tours. Rock venues closed and became turbo-folk clubs. Jam sessions and other live music events were no longer organized. Instruments were sold or traded off for survival.
The remaining musicians of Mitrovica had a strong motivation to teach the new generation in an attempt to revive the creation and performance of rock music. Unfortunately, they faced many adversities such as limited access to space, instruments and equipment as a result of the recent war. It wasn’t until the summer of 2008 when Musicians without Borders announced a one-week-long Rock School in Exile intensive camp taking place in neighbouring Macedonia to combat the challenges faced by the local musicians of Mitrovica. In this early project, rock musicians from North and South Mitrovica taught alongside Dutch rock music teachers. Twenty-five aspiring teenaged musicians from both sides of the city were recruited and brought to Skopje by bus. The result of this program was the creation of six mixed ethnic rock bands who were tasked with preparing songs to be performed a week later on an open stage. Upon the students return to Mitrovica, they sought a Rock School where they could continue to develop their musical abilities. Musicians without Borders responded to this plea by raising funds, renting modest space and enrolling the students and teachers in a small-scale music program. In October, two small facilities called the North and South branch were opened, which was the birth of the Mitrovica Rock School. From there, the best young musicians from both sides were invited to form an A-team band, which received additional coaching. This group was transformed into the Ambassador band program for senior students, which focussed on strengthening the relationship between different ethnic groups. “As more and more rock school students made musical connections across town, it became normal to play together, even sought-after, because playing in mixed bands was coupled with intensive, high quality music-making” (Burgess, 2016). Over the years, the Mitrovica Rock School has continued to expand into larger quarters, with lesson rooms, stage and rock cafes. Participants in the program have been given opportunities to watch and learn from outside bands and to tour Italy, Holland and Germany in their own ethnically mixed bands (Burgess, 2016). The Mitrovica Rock School has an extensive history of providing unique opportunities for students from diverse ethnic backgrounds to interact in a positive musical environment. This aspect of the initiative has been highly successful in its goal to revive the rock music culture of the area and connect war-torn communities.
The Mitrovica Rock School is focussed on providing quality education in popular music, teaching employable skills, and putting the “rock” back in “Rock City” (Mitrovica Rock School, n.d.). To restore Mitrovica’s proud music heritage, the institution offers daily music lessons, a Remix Band Program for ethnically mixed bands, training weeks for both students and teachers, in-house teacher training, and student traineeships. Tuition is offered for electric guitar, bass guitar, drums, keyboard, vocals, and recording and sound engineering. A variety of styles are incorporated into the curriculum including punk, rap, indies, rock and roll, and even jazz. The non-profit project directs all income generated by activities to the running costs of the school as a means of reducing donor dependency and maintaining the affordability of lessons to students. The school offers scholarships to students who are unable to pay the monthly membership fees. These scholarships require students to take on a job within the institution, which may be didactic, concert-related, maintenance-based or promotional in nature. The program is open to youth aged from eleven to twenty-five years from North and South Mitrovica, and surrounding areas. Lessons are offered on weekdays from 4:00pm-9:00pm. The tuition delivered by the Mitrovica Rock School successfully “restores the once vibrant rock music culture of the city” by educating the local upcoming musicians (Platform Spartak, n.d.).
Apart from providing tuition, the Mitrovica Rock School creates opportunities for students from the North and South branches to collaborate in workshops and community performances. This partnership “unites Serbian and Albanian youth who work together to create music and ignite social change” (Diamond, 2016). One of the ongoing projects is the annual summer camp where new ethnically mixed bands are formed and given the opportunity to communicate and interact in a way, which would normally be forbidden. This initiative is significant in restoring the city’s “shared rock music tradition” and stimulating a “culture of respect among youth through music” (International Council for Caring Communities, 2015). Further opportunities to connect with the wider community are presented by public performances and tours, which students participate in. This incentive engages the community in rock music and attempts to repair the ethnic divide caused by the Kosovo War. Another chance for students to showcase their musical talents is the release of a digital album on the Bandcamp website. The Best of Mitrovica Rock School album, released on February 26, 2016, features fifteen tracks from mixed student bands (Bandcamp, 2016). Through the ongoing collaboration between the North and South branches of Mitrovica Rock School, students learn the importance of rock music in being an “outlet for freedom of expression” and having “respect for the identities of others” (Gage, 2016). The Mitrovica Rock School is an extremely effective program, which encourages positive interaction through music and gives young musicians an array of opportunities they would not usually have.
While the Mitrovica Rock School has improved the lives of young local musicians and renewed the extensive musical tradition of the area, there have been some security concerns associated with the project. Hassler elaborates on the enduring tension between ethnic groups in her keynote presentation at the Global Forum: International Networking Breakfast at Canadian Music Week in 2016:
The situation in Mitrovica has not improved very much. There are still riots and attacks, the bridges are still barricaded, the city is still bankrupt and the old conflict still dominates almost every aspect of people’s lives. But, where kids used to be afraid of meeting anyone from the other side, some of them are now sneaking across the bridge to stay overnight at their new friends’ houses. Some have openly declared their friendships on social media.
The ongoing tension in Mitrovica endangers students who participate in the collaborative program because not all citizens are supportive of the association of different ethnicities with each other. The Palgrave Handbook of Global Arts Education, written by Baguley and Barton and published in 2017, reports that students would often “sneak across the bridge at unguarded moments to play acoustic guitar, sing together and sleep over at each other’s houses” (pg. 420). This behaviour threatens the safety of the students and could have dire consequences if detected. Hassler addressed this issue in her keynote presentation by arguing that the city has come to accept and even embrace the inter-ethnic ties between students of North and South Mitrovica. Furthermore, she states, “Everyone also knows that the finest young people in the city are part of the school, that they thrive and grow there, and that the Rock School is bringing back Mitrovica’s older, prouder heritage as a centre of music” (Hassler, 2016).
While the safety of students is a definite concern due to the enduring tension between ethnic groups, the Mitrovica Rock School makes b effort to confront these challenges.
Since 2008, over nine-hundred students have attended Mitrovica Rock School. The school “provides a neutral platform for youth from both sides of ethnically divided Mitrovica to meet as young musicians and aspiring rock stars” (Musicians without Borders, 2017). Mitrovica Rock School has a fabulous tuition program with experienced teachers who teach a variety of genres and instruments. In addition to this, the institution unites students from North and South Mitrovica to perform in the community. Overall, the initiative is extremely successful in achieving its goal to revive the rock music traditions of Mitrovica. Students are encouraged to create their own music and to perform as a unified group. While the musical goals are undoubtedly accomplished, the aim to eliminate the ethnic tension is still a work in progress. The students participating in the program learn to work in harmony with one another and embrace their ethnic diversity, which is definitely a step forward. However, the wider community is still segregated after nearly eighteen years, although much progress has been made towards unity. In conclusion, the Mitrovica Rock School has brought about great social change in the community and has reached a global audience in the process. This ongoing initiative has positively influenced the participants and has had some success in extending its benefits to the wider public.
Baguley, M., & Barton, G. (2017). Palgrave handbook of global arts education. London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Bandcamp. (2016). Best of Mitrovica Rock School. Retrieved from https://musicianswithoutborders.bandcamp.com/album/best-of-mitrovica-rock- school
Diamond, O. (2016). Laura Hassler Keynoted Musicians without Borders. Retrieved from http://www.fyimusicnews.ca/articles/2016/05/09/laura-hassler-keynoted- musicians-without-borders
Gage, J. (2016). New CONTACT Executive Director rings in his first year with Music Making for Peace. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@WorldLearning/new- contact-executive-director-rings-in-his-first-year-with-music-making-for-peace- 2d169bbc20bc
Hassler, L. (May 9, 2016). Laura Hassler, Founder and Director, Musicians without Borders - CMW Global Forum Keynote [Press Release]. Retrieved from https://musiccanada.com/news/laura-hassler-founder-and-director-musicians- without-borders-canadian-music-week-global-forum-keynote/
International Council for Caring Communities. (2015). Music as a global resource: Solution for social and economical issues. Retrieved from http://international- iccc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Music_as_a_Global_Resource_2015.pdf
Mitrovica Rock School. (n.d.). Mitrovica Rock School. Retrieved from http://www.mitrovicarockschool.org/index.html
Musicians without Borders. (2017). Musicians without Borders. Retrieved from https://www.musicianswithoutborders.org/
Peace Direct. (2016). Musicians without Borders. Retrieved from https://www.insightonconflict.org/conflicts/western-balkans/peacebuilding- organisations/musicians-without-borders/
Platform Spartak. (n.d.). Spartak visits Mitrovica Rock School. Retrieved from http://www.platformspartak.eu/log/archief/Spartak-visits-Mitrovica-Rock- School.htm
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