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Youth Blogger: Music Opens Worlds of Opportunities

Tomas Salazar, Rising Senior at Escola Americana do Rio de Janeiro (EARJ) in Brazil shares his project to use music to bring culture and opportunity to at-risk students. This blog is part of our ongoing series by young adults who participated in Global Citizens Initiative's Summer Youth Summit.

by guest blogger Tomas Salazar

Have you ever made music? Have you ever allowed the deepest aspects of the "self" that you never let out, to speak to you in rhythm? Have your fingers ever tingled thanks to touching the surface of a cold instrument? In your head you hear the subtle one, two, three, four; one, two, three, four. Every new count your fingers leap, as synchronized ballet dancers do, whilst you crescendo from Do to Re. Each new note reached represents an emotion, and as you shift from being the performer to the listener, you disconnect from your physical self and watch as your fingers perform before you. As you finally reach that high Re, you feel the tingle spread from your finger tips down your arms, up to your shoulder blades, before scurrying up into your skull, and rippling down your spine. The goose bumps finally form on your skin as you listen. You just expressed something no one else can: how you feel. 

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Music is a mood modifier. Music is a stress succorer. Music is a feeling freer. Music is a tremendous tool. Music is a natural necessity. Music is much more than we give it credit for, yet music is the first thing we get rid of in formal education. 

The public school system of Brazil has its flaws, including the lack of creative arts programs. What is a country if not its culture? How can we acquire culture if there is no one to create it? These are questions that the government seems to ignore when deciding upon the schooling system of the nation. An unfair distribution of the country's assets occurs. While the STEM-focused students have their needs tended to, those who favor the creative arts are blatantly ignored. In Brazil, currently, there is a hole. There are millions of creative minds with infinite talents that are looked over. As Lorenzo said in A Bronx Tale, "There is nothing worse than wasted talent."

My job as a global citizen is to bridge this gap between potential and actual. I saw that there was little opportunity for a student attending public school to become a performer, and I decided, since I had the chance to learn to play the saxophone as a 6th grader at EARJ, it was my responsibility to change that. Playing an instrument taught me discipline, and it is because of my time playing the saxophone that I truly learned that hard work pays off. I started without knowing to play anything and with bi-weekly private classes I was able to join the concert band. I couldn't believe this opportunity was not available to others and I knew others deserved to grow from music the same way I did. This was where Musically United Students and Teachers (MUST) came in.

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MUST is an organization, co-founded by Antonio Grumser and myself, focused on helping the community of Rio de Janeiro by empowering youth musicians while saving children from the dangerous realities they could be absorbed by, such as gang and drug violence, drug culture, criminal activities, and petty thievery. When a child grows up in this kind of environment it is first a challenge not to take part in what everyone around you does, but it is also a challenge to be seen as something more than someone from that community in the Brazilian society. MUST understands the importance of helping others and, as a group, takes the responsibility of providing to the children of the Rocinha community center the chance to improve their quality of life through violin lessons free of charge. This is a club that teaches kids that where they stand does not define where they can go while catering to those individuals who do not fit the STEM profile that is focused on in public schools. 

The program has four goals:

  • To bridge the gap between potential and professional by supporting the music students through their careers with connections to music professionals in the Rio community.
  • To create appreciation for arts and allow for talented individuals to showcase their skills in the field of music.
  • To humanize the social classes. This is done by connecting the children of the American School with the children of Rochinha. Exposure of other cultures through these music classrooms adds a personal component and each community constructs a new idea of what the other group is.
  • To develop constructive citizens who, although they might not become a professional musician, possess the skills to be successful in any field. We teach traits like responsibility to the band, determination to learn a piece properly, and appreciation of what one has, which are essential for the kids in the future.

Our vision for the project is to become a non-governmental organization and obtain corporate charity contracts from businesses and enough money from performances to be able to sustain a growing number of students with transportation, breakfast, teachers, instrument maintenance, and classes without having to take breaks to raise more money. Making MUST self-sufficient would allow for the program to grow beyond the community of Rocinha and become a force of good in Rio de Janeiro. While I am still in school, my aspiration for the club is to leave behind a proper structure so that once I go on to pursue further education, the club will continue impacting important lives. I also hope to organize concerts for our students and their parents—a chance to showcase what the students have learned in their classes. Once the children see the outcomes of their hard work, they will be inspired to work even harder. This is why I wish to see MUST become successful. Everyone deserves the chance to explore themselves and their talents, and to acquire cultural understanding through music. 

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Photos courtesy of the author.

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