This December, Music in Common Director of Multimedia, Lynnette Najimy, and I will spend two weeks traveling throughout Israel to produce our MiC Youth Program in half a dozen communities. We will work with educators and musicians in Israel to lead each of these programs. The mission of Music in Common is to strengthen, empower, and educate communities through the universal language of music. Our purpose is to provide a platform for the exchange of ideas and collaborations that can lead to positive social change. We do that by bringing together diverse groups of people through free, publicly accessible concerts and school programs. We have an interest in underserved areas and communities where there is a history of conflict, particularly the Middle East.
Danny Pearl’s murder was motivated by hatred. He was killed because he was an American, a journalist, and a Jew. I am compelled to understand what motivates a hatred so intense that it leads to taking somebody’s life. I am equally compelled to do my part to eradicate the hate. When thinking about anti-Semitism and Jewish-Muslim relations, the Middle East seems like the logical place to start. Early on in our tour of the region last year we quickly discovered that all roads don’t actually lead to Rome, but instead to Jerusalem.
In our MiC Youth Programs, students work together with industry professionals to write, record, and perform a song. They also produce a video of the song. The program requires hands on participation and provides a unique experiential education for its participants. While students learn a great deal about the creative processes of songwriting, recording, performing, photography, and videography, they also learn something much more valuable. They learn how to listen to one another and exchange ideas with mutual respect, how to collaborate, and the importance of working together as a team to reach a common goal. From this they gain invaluable life-skills that help them constructively manage issues of bullying, intolerance, cultural conflict, and social tension. This is a skill set that will guide them now and for the rest of their lives.
In Israel we are producing programs with high school and college students in which six Jewish and six Arab participants will work side by side to write, record, and perform their song. We believe that young people possess the power to change the world and that the future of the world rests in their hands. Imagine the change that could take place if young people, who are often raised to fear and mistrust one another because of their religion, can learn to appreciate and respect the differences between them rather than resort to violence and hatred because of those differences. By creating something meaningful together, the MiC Youth Program provides an opportunity for students to discover the things they have in common despite their differences. It is this recognition of their commonality and a respect for their differences that will ultimately lead to change in the region.
The MiC Youth Program also provides an outlet for self-expression and a safe and nurturing environment for that expression. Kids can speak their minds freely without being admonished or ridiculed for their thoughts and ideas. In the programs that we have produced here in the States, it is clear that students want and need that outlet based upon the subject matter of each of the songs written so far, which deal with themes of self-empowerment, self-esteem, and self-discovery. In many of the places we are visiting in Israel, some of which are conservative Muslim communities, the opportunity to express one’s inner feelings simply does not exist.
The Middle East is not the only place with a need for our MiC Youth Program. The need exists everywhere, including right here in the Berkshires where kids face the very same issues of bullying, social and cultural conflict, and intolerance as the kids in the Middle East. It is why Music in Common has set the goal of placing the program in every high school in Berkshire County by the end of 2012. I urge you to be a part of this effort by either volunteering your time to the program or contributing financially. By doing so, you will be doing your part to make a difference in the world around us. There is no better place to start than in your own back yard. Visit our website at www.musicincommon.org to learn more.
Todd Mack is a writer, musician, and producer, and owner of the Off the Beat-n-Track recording studio in Sheffield, MA. He is also the founder and executive director of Music in Common, a non-profit organization whose mission is to strengthen, empower, and educate communities through the universal language of music. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.