Music has the wonderful power to transcend borders, bring people together, and serve as a unifying force for positive social change. Musicians have often served as unofficial ambassadors, bridging gaps in cultural understanding and providing opportunities for connection and exchange.  

A concert last week in Iran, featuring jazz saxophonist Bob Belden was the first to feature an American musician since the 1979 Iranian revolution. The warm reception that he received shows that even when nations may be at odds, musicians can play an important role in fostering goodwill and understanding.

In the spirit of the Tehran concert, here are some other standout examples of the power that music has as a force for social good:

1) Social mobility through music: El Sistema

El Sistema is a music program in Venezuela which aims to lift needy children out of poverty. The program brings disadvantaged youths off the streets and into orchestras, hoping to promote social mobility and opportunity through music. Music lessons and instruments are generally expensive, and this free program is a great equalizer. Beyond the musical skills gained, these students learn important lessons about commitment, discipline, and work ethic.  

2) Bridging divisions in the Middle East: West-Eastern Divan Orchestra

This orchestra was created as a way to bridge the divide between young Arabs and Israelis, and they have done some inspiring performances around the world. The founders don’t claim their orchestra has the power to single handedly bring peace to the region, but instead highlight that the group is an “orchestra against ignorance,” spreading a powerful message about the beauty of cooperation. The orchestra provides a platform for bridging deep political divides, an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to see each other as equals, and a chance for great talents from the Middle East to shine around the world.

3) Forging cross cultural connections: Silk Road Ensemble

World renowned cellist, Yo-Yo Ma founded Silk Road Ensemble as a way to bring together performers and composers from around the world who come from many different places and traditions. The group strives “to create unexpected connections, collaborations, and communities in pursuit of meaningful change.” Participating musicians are exposed to each other’s different musical styles and preferences, building on the premise that exploration of our cultural differences enriches humanity. I couldn’t agree more.

4) Bringing together advocacy, action, and music: Global Citizen Festival

If you are reading this, you are probably already aware of Global Citizen’s annual music festival every September in Central Park (and if not, I’m happy to be the one to introduce you). Global citizens take actions on issues including sanitation, child health, education, as well as youth and adolescent rights  to earn their tickets to the festival. All the actions are related to the mission of ending extreme poverty by 2030. Have you started collecting points for this year’s festival? (if not, look for petitions to sign and start getting involved!)

“Music is the great uniter. An incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything and anything else can have in common.” -Sarah Dessen, writer  


Demand Equity

The social power of music

By Allie Kehoe