Musicians Without Borders - War Divides, Music Connects » Music Tech Fest Podcast Interview: Laura Hassler

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Posts Tagged ‘laura hassler’

Music Tech Fest Podcast Interview: Laura Hassler

“…all human beings have music in them, it’s in our DNA, it’s in our bodies and it’s in every culture.” Laura Hassler

In the latest Music Tech Fest podcast, MTF Director, Andrew Dubber, interviews Laura about what MWB does, why it matters and how it all started.

Earlier this year, Musicians Without Borders was supported by the Music Tech Fest’s hackathon music release.

Click here to listen to the podcast


About Music Tech Fest

Music Tech Fest is a three-day arts festival and creative space where participants share and “develop new formats of musical performance and expression.” It is billed as the ‘festival of music ideas’.


Tigers and Hope: Borders and Music in El Salvador





by Laura Hassler


“Nana, you a tiger!,” she shrieks, and I roar at her and she squeals with delight and runs her little 3-year-old escape, laughing all the way. Maya, my little granddaughter, with her funny, made-up words, her bright dark eyes, her spontaneous hugs: more precious to me than words can tell.

I read about “child separations” at the US-Mexico border—thousands of children ripped from their parents’ arms, lost somewhere: in cages, prisons, or for-profit US adoption agencies. Most of these families, torn apart at the border, are fleeing violence and grueling poverty in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. I think about our Maya and tears flow for those little, amazing, smart, spontaneous children, and their mamas, papas, and nanas who may never again hold them in their arms or play tiger with them.


Armonia Cuscatleca

Last week, I was asked to write a letter of endorsement for a Salvadoran family—a mother and two children– who had managed to enter the US, fleeing violence and grueling poverty. They would come before a judge, and a letter, attesting to their honest, hard-working, reliable character, might help. The children had been members of Armonia Cuscatleca, playing violin in the children’s orchestra in a village in El Salvador, a project currently supported by Musicians Without Borders.

Armonia Cuscatleca brings music to children living in poverty in a region ruled by gang violence, the brutal inheritance of a war that had nothing to do with them. But such is war: decades later, it leaves behind poverty, loss, division, and a culture of violence.


Hope Is Merely the Decision to Act

I see the photos of the children of Armonia Cuscatleca, playing violins and cellos in an orchestra, smiling, laughing, making music together, performing on stage, representing their village for their families, in neighboring towns, even for the president. Again, I think of Maya. If she lived here, in El Salvador, how I would wish for such an orchestra for her.

Hope is merely the decision to act, they say, and this children’s orchestra came into being because someone decided to act. A young Salvadoran musician, raised in the US, returned to his native village with a few donated violins and started a to teach children to play music. Some children leave, their families fleeing violence and poverty. Others stay. And the orchestra grows and something like a community, something like hope, emerges.

In a place like El Salvador, or at the Mexico/ US border, as musicians, how can we act? what can we do?


We can work in communities. We can bring music to places where children have nothing, we can connect with them and help build a culture of inclusion, creativity, community, and nonviolence.


And we can raise voices through our music. We can tell the stories, protest the injustice, stand in solidarity with those who are excluded, separated, incarcerated.


For all the little Mayas everywhere, let us be the tigers, let us bring on the music, powered by hope—the decision to act.













The Music That’s in All of Us

Originally in
by Robert C. Koehler

“Music is a healing force that can and must be used to move humanity past the damage it has been doing to itself ever since war and conquest became the global norm.”


And suddenly the music burst through the borders.


This was in May of 1999, in a city in the Netherlands called Alkmaar. Laura Hassler, an American woman who had been living in the Netherlands for many years by then — who was a choir director and, in essence, the “town musician,” the organizer of public music events — had put together a concert for the town’s annual honoring of the dead of World War II.


But the bloody war in Kosovo was then raging: Thousands had died; nearly a million refugees were streaming across Europe. Its horror dominated the daily news and Laura couldn’t ignore it. She couldn’t simply focus on the war dead of half a century ago, not when the hell of war was alive in the present moment, pulling at her soul.

She decided, “We’ll perform music from the people suffering from war now — folk songs from Eastern Europe,” she told me. Her impulse was to reach out, to connect, somehow, with those suffering right now, on the other side of Europe. And something happened the night of the concert. When it ended, there was a moment of profound silence . . . and then, as the audience stood, applause so thunderous that the rafters shook. It went on for 20 minutes.


Click here to read the original article



20 Years of Peacebuilding Through Music

To close our end of year Story of Light series, our Founder & Director, Laura Hassler reflects on 20 years of peacebuilding through music.

by Laura Hassler

2019 will mark 20 years since a war memorial concert sparked what was to become a community, a movement and an organization: Musicians Without Borders.

Twenty years ago, war raged in the Balkans. Today, those guns are silent, but the effects of war still rage in the hearts, minds and lives of so many. Musicians Without Borders still works in the Balkans, with the now independent Mitrovica Rock School in Kosovo and two new rock music schools in Macedonia. This coming year we will return to Bosnia, working with musician friends to support refugees from other war zones. How tragic and ironic, that one of the dangers for ‘new’ refugees traveling through Bosnia, is the ‘old’ land mines, still strewn throughout the country.

Fifteen years ago, we organized our first international gathering in Sarajevo. Fifty musicians from the Balkans, the Middle East, Cyprus and western Europe met in the Sarajevo Music Academy to start a global network, using the power of music for reconciliation, justice and peace.

Eleven years ago, our Music Bus project in Bosnia inspired Palestine Community Music, now a permanent program that trains teachers, social workers and young cultural leaders in community music and nonviolence for children in marginalized Palestinian communities.

Nine years ago, two MWB trainers brought the inspiration of Palestine Community Music to Rwanda and worked with young Rwandans to create Rwanda Youth Music. To date, more than 150 Community Music Leaders have been trained to bring the joy of music to vulnerable children. The project has expanded to include trainings in Tanzania and Uganda, as well as with young Burundian and Congolese leaders in refugee camps. Thanks to their passion and their new skills, thousands upon thousands of children now come together to sing and write songs, drum and build instruments.

Recent years brought invitations to work in Northern Ireland and El Salvador, and our own decision to engage in the ‘refugee crisis’ in western Europe, adapting our experiences of years of working with local musicians in support of vulnerable people.

All of these projects are still going strong, continuously growing and changing as they expand regionally and are integrated into permanent programs, and as leadership becomes locally based. At the same time, our own community grows and diversifies with new leaders and trainers from the project regions: we meet, exchange and learn from each other, share resources and train others around the world as socially engaged activist musicians.

We have grown from a small group of volunteers with a vision, to a professional organization and a world leader in our field. Our growth has been slow and organic and has allowed us to learn, and to teach, and to learn again. In 2019, we will celebrate 20 years of Musicians Without Borders, we will also be making choices for the coming years: how fast and how far do we want to grow? How to increase the impact of our work, while preserving the caring community that is so crucial to our identity? How to contribute to larger movements and networks for social change and peacebuilding?

As we look back, and forward, the core message of Musicians Without Borders continues as true as it has been for 20 years: War Divides, Music Connects.

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Press Release: MWB Director, Laura Hassler, Delivers Keynote at CMW Global Forum

Laura Hassler, Founder and Director of Musicians without Borders, a global organization that uses music to bridge divides, connect communities and heal the wounds of war, will be the keynote speaker at the Global Forum Networking Breakfast at Canadian Music Week.

The 2016 Global Forum, sponsored by Music Canada, will celebrate and recognize individuals and organizations in the music community who are using music to make the world a better place. The event, which also features a panel discussion, takes place on Friday, May 6 at the Sheraton Centre and is by invitation only.

“As the music community continues to focus on adapting to an evolving digital environment, this year’s Global Forum will take stock of the amazing power of music to unite us all and be a force for good,” says Graham Henderson, President and CEO of Music Canada. “Laura Hassler and the panelists at this year’s Global Forum demonstrate every day that music has the ability to heal, console, inspire, ignite and connect.” “We’re thrilled to have Laura Hassler at this year’s Global Forum,” added CMW President Neill Dixon. “The work that she and her organization is doing is of great importance to the global community.”

Laura Hassler and Musicians Without Borders

Laura Hassler grew up in a multicultural, artistic community in New York, a child of parents working in the international peace and nonviolence movement. Active from an early age in the US civil rights and peace movements, she studied cultural anthropology and music at Swarthmore College, combining academics with activism and music.

During the 1970s, Hassler worked for a succession of peace-related causes and organizations. She moved to the Netherlands in 1977, where she developed a career as a musician, linking music to social causes, and specializing in cultural diversity in the arts.

Part of a large network of socially conscious musicians, Hassler mobilized this network to launch Musicians without Borders in 1999. Today, the organization has become one of the world’s pioneers in the use of music to bridge divides, build community and heal the wounds of war.

Based in the Netherlands, Musicians without Borders is a global network of musicians and music lovers who work with local musicians and organizations to design community music projects that help people deal with the trauma, fear and isolation that result from war. The organization currently has projects in Palestine, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, Tanzania, Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In addition to serving as Director of Musicians without Borders, Hassler sings with one of the organization’s musical ambassadors, Fearless Rose.

Panel Discussion

Following her keynote address, Hassler will take part in a panel discussion with representatives of three other organizations that use music in innovative ways to make the world a better place. The panel, moderated by journalist Nancy Wilson, includes:

  • Andre Le Roux, Managing Director of South Africa’s SAMRO Foundation, the largest private contributor to music development in the Southern African region, supporting almost 50 community-based music schools and providing scholarships for music studies overseas;
  • Andrew Mosker, President and CEO of the National Music Centre in Calgary, which reaches music lovers through education, exhibitions, incubation and performance; and
  • Lee Whitmore, Vice President, Education Outreach and Social Entrepreneurship at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where he leads Berklee City Music, a program that enables youth from underserved communities to develop musically, academically, socially and emotionally through the study of contemporary music.


The Global Forum brings together 250 top music professionals from around the world as well as leaders from entertainment, business, academia and law, to consider some of the more challenging issues facing the creative industries. Over the past decade, the Global Forum has covered topics ranging from Brand Sponsored Piracy, Internet Governance, and The Survival of the Creative Class.


Music Canada is a non-profit trade organization that represents the major record companies in Canada, namely Sony Music Entertainment Canada, Universal Music Canada and Warner Music Canada. Music Canada also works with some of the leading independent record labels and distributors, recording studios, live music venues, concert promoters, managers and artists in the promotion and development of the music cluster.

For further information:
Quentin Burgess, Music Canada
[email protected]
(416) 967-7272 x106

Now in it’s 34th year, Canadian Music Week is recognized as one of the premiere entertainment events in North America focusing on the business of music. The Canadian Music Week festival spans 7 nights of performances, with hundreds of showcasing bands at more than 40 live music venues in downtown Toronto. All convention functions take place at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, 123 Queen Street West, Toronto.