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Our methodology is based on the understanding that music is an integral part of human nature. As such, it has the potential to connect and bring people together in a shared, safe space. Through years of experience we’ve learned to harness the power of music to transcend borders and create empathic connections between people of different cultures, backgrounds and languages without and beyond words.

Guiding Principles

Core values

  • We use music as a tool for bridging divides and promoting social change.
  • We strive to increase empathy among all participants.
  • We strive to cultivate a culture of nonviolence.

Principles of our work

  • SAFETY: The group is a safe place for everyone.
  • INCLUSION: Music provides a neutral space, where people from different backgrounds can meet through their common love of and engagement in music-making and are not defined by their differences.
  • EQUALITY: Everyone is welcome, everyone is honored, everyone can make music, and everyone is treated equally.
  • CREATIVITY: Using the creativity of individuals and as a group we can experience the connecting power of (shared) ownership in music.
  • QUALITY: We strive for a high quality of music-making, as this leads to a higher sense of connection and empathy.

Musicians Without Borders Trainers

Musicians without Borders trainers are men and women who collectively have a broad range of training skills and experience in working with children, youth and adults in fragile (post) conflict environments. Besides musical expertise, key qualities for our trainers include:

  • An ability to honor all participants, whatever their level of musical competence, and to stimulate and value musical progress – both of the group and its individual members – based not on arbitrary standards, but on the group or individual’s willingness to enter the shared musical space and move creatively within it.
  • Sensitivity to the overlapping dynamics of the participants’ context – such as traumatic past experiences, physical or psychological health issues, domestic or community problems, stress or depression – that may influence participants’ ability to engage in the process. Trainers must be prepared for complications and be able to navigate the complexities they encounter or intuit when not completely known or understood. This requires a high degree of flexibility and improvisational talent on the part of the trainer.
  • A sense for the right moment to ‘step back and let them shine their own light’, the ability to be a leader who encourages leadership and guides the process of empowerment, whose ego is sufficiently satisfied by the success of his/her teaching, rather than needing to be the central point of attention.
Community Music

Community music-making is based on working together to create music, giving each participant the opportunity to develop his/her own musical potential within the context of a supportive group environment.

Making music together allows us to renegotiate our personal, cultural, and social borders so that the possibility of connecting to another person is possible. Music is flexible – it’s fast, slow, loud, soft, frantic, and structured. When we play music, we too become more flexible in the way we think, the way we react, our willingness to accept the things we cannot control, and to take responsibility for our part in the larger picture.

In Bosnia, Palestine, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, The Netherlands and Northern Ireland, MwB has trained more than 300 local musicians and talented youth and adults as community music leaders, capable of organizing and delivering community music workshops and activities for children and adults in their own and other communities.

Many of our trainers have extensive experience in other regions working with a broad range of target groups and issues. We have now adapted our training for use with refugee populations in Europe. We also offer advanced community music training courses to both community and professional musicians; since 2015, we have trained more than 100 musicians working in communities in i.a. South Africa, USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Mexico, Korea, Iceland, Ireland, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, Italy, Kenya, Rwanda, Israel, Palestine, Switzerland and Sudan.

Music Education

“What our projects continue to teach us is that music education, at its most effective, is an on-going process of finding the connections that music brings — to one’s deepest self, to one’s fellow musicians, audience, friends and community, to the mystery of a composition or an improvisation, to the rhythms of life all around. In that connection lies empathy, and we embed an awareness of this double and parallel significance in all that we do.

When teaching people musical skills, our goal is to enable them to play together, to express themselves clearly, and to process past and current experiences. The limitation of this description, however, is that it implies a separation of the process of musical education from the process of music. Furthermore, it suggests a clear start and ending to the process of personal and musical learning, rather than a lifelong exploration.”

[Hassler & Nicholson,  2017, p.428]

Mitrovica Rock School

The Mitrovica Rock School works with a curriculum developed by our teachers with the support of the Fontys Rockacademie (Netherlands), based on demand-driven learning and adjusted to the local situation. In the absence of higher popular music education in Kosovo, the program is geared towards producing musicians with employable skills in the Mitrovica context. The quality of education is essential to the success of the program: students acquire the tools to play, write their own music, communicate about their music, and give and receive feedback. Students are placed in ethnically mixed bands as soon as they have the skills needed to start writing their own songs.

Eric Coenen challenges members of Proximity Mine to create instrumental parts that best serve the song

Beginners work according to a general lesson plan. As soon as they achieve a basic skill level, students choose their own songs, style and genre, while their teachers structure lessons to work towards benchmarks in the curriculum. In band coaching sessions, teachers challenge students to find their own solutions as they develop new songs, encouraging discussion without presenting ready-made answers.

Participants and trainers at the 2016 summer school

The Mitrovica Rock School has a fluid structure, rewarding talent and initiative with traineeships where students work as assistant teachers, sound engineers or organizers. Nine former student-trainees have graduated into staff positions, while several others have gone on to successful careers outside the school. Junior teachers (former trainees) receive ongoing training from external expert band coaches to ensure continuous learning.

Rwanda Youth Music

Incorporating music education into the program, raising the standard of musical knowledge and instrumental skills in the team of young music leaders, has expanded the breadth of their community music-making. They are able to incorporate harmony in singing; they can teach instruments as part of group activities; and their rhythmic and melodic work has become compelling and engaging.

Espoir demonstrates an improvised solo to his students.

A weekly program of on-going music training has been running at the Oakdale Kigali Music School since 2011, with the aim to enhance the breadth of work of our team of Community Music Leaders. Three Rwandan musicians teach the young music leaders guitar, piano, drums, vocal skills, and song-writing. The professional musicians also receive lessons in their instruments from Musicians without Borders, and are supported in developing their pedagogical skills.
The program has also led to employment for 7 young people, with other community-based organizations, including pre-schools, secondary schools, and two centres for former street children. The income from this work finances their own education, and helps support younger siblings and families.
Sounds of Palestine

We work in close cooperation with Sounds of Palestine, supporting the program with training and musical resources. Sounds of Palestine uses music education as a medium for long term social change, offering regular lessons per week to the many participating children. Hundreds of children from Aida and al-Azzeh refugee camp in the Bethlehem area participate in music appreciation lessons, instrument instruction, folk dancing, choir, music theory lessons and orchestral training.

Music Bridge Northern Ireland

Music Bridge employs the expertise of Musicians without Borders in partnership with Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin, a pioneer in bringing a multi-ethnic approach to the exploration of arts and culture in the city of Derry-Londonderry.

This collaborative project has been training members of the local communities, community musicians, professional musicians and teachers in using music as a way to enhance empathy and trust between divided communities, encouraging self-confidence and self-awareness in participants, and to contribute to reconciliation in Northern Ireland. The goal of Music Bridge is to establish an open-to-all access to unique and sustainable music education programs where the focus is building meaningful connections between people from a variety of communities throughout Derry-Londonderry and the wider area of Northern Ireland.

Musicians without Borders leads music workshop leadership training for community workers and musicians interested in developing meaningful projects in their communities with a focus on children and youth from fragile environments. Our trainees have been able to organize and implement creative music activities within both single and mixed identity communities with the aim of strengthening their self-identity, creating common goals while learning more about what connects us rather than what separates us. The trainees use their acquired variety of musical skills to further their understanding of positive group leadership, principles of nonviolence and emotional self-awareness.

Currently, our long term workshops take place in local primary schools, community group settings as well as standalone events for the wider public. Teachers and community leaders have commented on the positive change they have seen in their students and participants over the past three years.  We are collecting feedback from all of our participants in order to better understand the changing needs of the wider community in Northern Ireland and to adapt our music programs to suit these needs and bring people together.

From Trainee to Trainer

Our projects focus on personal transformation, and perhaps the most transformative experience is from trainee to trainer. Talented participants are offered traineeships, where they work as assistant workshop leaders and in various other leadership roles.

Trainees receive peer-to-peer teaching from local trainers and gain valuable professional experience through their daily work. Where possible, trainees receive coaching from external experts who travel to the project location, or we arrange travel to give trainees educational opportunities abroad. Many former trainees have graduated into leadership positions and are now coaching the next generation of trainees, while others have gone on to achieve success in related fields outside our organization. Especially in areas of high unemployment and limited access to educational opportunities, traineeships are a vital investment in local talent and in the sustainability of our projects.

Rwanda Youth Music

In May 2017, in Kigali we began the first Community Music Leadership training fully facilitated by a Rwandan training team. Two professional musicians, Yves and Espoir, work with experienced Community Music Leaders, and deliver the complete Musicians without Borders curriculum. This is the realisation of our trainees to trainers model.

In Uganda: Rwandan Community Music Leader working as an assistant trainer

The first group of Community Music Leaders in Rwanda began training with Musicians without Borders in 2011. They embraced the skills quickly, giving support to 100s of children in their communities through music-making. An outreach program, working with children across Rwanda expanded their experience and skills further. Weekly music lessons built their knowledge. In 2015 when we began a new training program in Moshi, Tanzania, we invited some of the Rwandan Community Music Leaders to come and share their knowledge and their culture. This was the first time we had employed our Rwandan team as assistant trainers.

The success in Tanzania led us to replicate the model in future trainings in Rwanda and recently in Uganda. Last year two of the team travelled to the Netherlands to attend and international Musicians without Borders Training of Trainers. This year, two more will make the trip – hopefully including Leontine.

Leontine was one of the first group of trainees in Rwanda. She has gone on to be employed as a music teacher at a local pre-school. She has worked as a trainer for Musicians without Borders in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. Here she is in 2014, explaining some of her story:

Music Bridge Northern Ireland

Amanda leading a community music workshop at Culturlann Ui Chanain, Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland

The aim of the Music Bridge program is to create a sustainable community music service in Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Following the first training year, we invited Amanda Koser-Gillespie, one of our graduated trainees, to attend our Training of Trainers in the Netherlands, to prepare her with the necessary skills to serve as the first local assistant trainer in the Music Bridge program. Amanda has now assisted and led training weeks alongside her role as the local music coach, providing weekly support for our trainees and coordinating music workshops for schools and community groups.

Amanda: “I found that while working in (music) education and peacebuilding, my emotional and pedagogical tools begin to show their wear and tear over time. I have participated in other projects with MwB that have helped to restock some of the tools needed so that I may continue working in this field. The ‘Training of Trainers’ allowed me to walk into the woods, plant the seeds, cultivate the growth and reshape the tools I can pass on to others the way some were passed onto to me.”

Mitrovica Rock School

The Mitrovica Rock School first developed traineeships in response to gaps in the employment market. In a medium-sized town whose cultural scene had been devastated by the war, it was simply impossible to find qualified teachers in bass guitar and pop vocals. On the other hand we had students who were so advanced in those skills that we could not offer them any program, so the first traineeships were born. Since then, the Mitrovica Rock School enrolled 17 of its students in traineeships, nine of whom graduated into staff positions. Former student-trainees hold central positions on the Rock School’s faculty and management. Other former trainees have gone on to professional musicianship and other professional positions.

Emir (center) during sound engineering traineeship 2011

After participating in several Rock School activities, Emir Hasani (1992) started as a trainee sound engineer in 2011, studying studio recording and live sound engineering with various trainers from the Fontys Rockacademie (NL). While his main instrument is the guitar, Emir developed as a multi-instrumentalist and was assessed by the Rockacademie as suitable to teach keyboard, vocals, and music theory. He graduated into a full teaching position in 2015, and was recruited as a project manager in 2016. Emir was in the Rock School’s longest running ethnically mixed band, the Artchitects, alongside three other former student-trainees who are now teachers at the Rock School. He is currently finalizing his studies in formal music education and pedagogy.

Emir (center) coaching mixed band Morana in 2017

Emir: “The Mitrovica Rock School influenced me both professionally and personally. It gave me the opportunity to learn and teach music, meet lot of different people and develop myself in different fields. It makes me proud to see our students grow into real musicians and change our city for the better.”

Music Therapy

“People in need often experience challenges to their dignity, as when a sick person finds that his freedom is restricted by the regime of an institution or a poor person finds that her access to resources in society is hindered. Many social and cultural rights, such as the right to education, adequate health care and cultural participation in society, cannot be achieved by laws and regulations alone. They must be actively sought. It is therefore important that we [music therapists] as professionals see our obligations not only in relation to the needs of individuals but also in relation to human rights in a broader context.”

(Bunt & Stige, 2014, p.122)

Music Therapy in Rwanda

In 2013, Musicians without Borders was invited to partner with Rwandan healthcare organization WE-ACTx for Hope to support the establishment of the country’s first professional Music Therapy position. Since then, in small groups and in 1-1 sessions, over 100 young people living with HIV have attended and benefitted from music therapy sessions with a UK qualified and registered music therapist. In evaluation, 100% of interviewed participants reported positive impact.

Counselors, nurses and medical staff refer young patients for music therapy when they see indicators of risk that have included treatment failure resulting from poor adherence to medication; isolating behaviors; changes to mood; non-attendance at school; young motherhood; and a lack of appropriate caregivers at home.

Young people living with HIV face profound vulnerability. While rates of HIV-related deaths worldwide fell by 30% worldwide between 2005 and 2012 (Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, 2013), for adolescents this figure rose by 50% (World Health Organization, 2013). Disengagement from clinical care for young people is a high risk, and the incorporation of music therapy into clinical services is a response to that risk.

To allow greater reach of music therapy approaches in Rwanda, musicians have been trained to run therapeutic music groups, and a training course has been developed in Music & Health, accredited within the University of Rwanda’s forthcoming BA Music.

Music as Therapy in Palestine

In 2015, we started a pilot program with Music as Therapy International in collaboration with our ongoing program Palestine Community Music. Three people have successfully participated in the one year distance learning course, which included monthly written assignments and practical work with young children with special needs. Three small groups of children from al-Azzeh refugee camp, House of Hope and the school for special needs in Beit Jalla received eight sessions in which they worked towards goals such as increasing concentration, sharing with others and taking initiative.

After making a few adjustments to the course to correspond with the needs of the local culture, we will begin a second round in July 2017. Six to eight new trainees will follow the one year course under the supervision of Music as Therapy International and Musicians without Borders’ music coach. We have translated all tutorials and learning material into Arabic, so the course can also be followed by people with a limited knowledge of English. In September 2017, the new group of trainees will receive three days of training by music therapists from MasT International. The practical work will begin in February 2018, which includes eight sessions for three-four children with special needs, given by each trainee.

Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning

Monitoring, evaluation, and learning protocols for all Musicians without Borders’ programs are informed by our Theory of Change:

The Theory of Change was developed through an extensive process of consultation carried out in 2017, drawing on the experience and expertise of people involved throughout Musicians without Borders, alongside current research in the field of arts and social change.

In 2018 we aim to share here our methods of evaluation and monitoring, as well as providing links to data collected in our programs.