Borletti-Buitoni Trust
01 July 2020

#BBTathomeforawhile –
The Anchor of Awareness

by SONG Onlus Sistema Lombardia

Sharpening our ears to to the comfort of music


Who has been talking? Who has been singing?
Tell me your name, please tell me.
Ah your name is Song. And where would you be, since I cannot see you?
You are in my heart, you mean, are you sure? And where may I take you?
Oh yes so you do not take up suitcases or bags or backpacks, and what would your task be?
Wait maybe I understand let me guess: You bring happiness to all?
You were the one who brought so much wonder and happiness into my life, right?
Oh, thanks. Glad to meet you I am Anna, I think I will keep you right here, in my heart.

Dialogo con il Canto: Annuccia

One does not enter the adventure of music for social change without a keen conviction that it is worthwhile pursuing in spite of adversities because it does change lives for the better. So far, we thought we had a fair measure of what this entails in terms of challenges: securing spaces for practise and concerts, mobilising schools to share our priorities, convincing families to support the additional efforts of their children, developing teachers towards a different style of instruction, obtaining funds for adequate operation of all activities. One way or the other, dealing with these in turn has become part of our daily fare, with no particular drama.

A small group of SONG Onlus musicians at Barrio’s community centre in Milan rehearsing for “Side by Side” by Sistema Sweden, at its first digital summer camp 14 June 2020. ©Elisabetta Lapadula

What we have all been faced with in the last months defies comparison, while we all strive to maintain some kind of viable balance between still believing in our tenets and the rising awareness of an unprecedented crisis around us.

Awareness has been a key word and a grounding element to keep us attuned in the “SONG” programme of ensemble music-making, though it too has had to take a different shape. From the very first days of the lockdown in Italy – one of the earliest to necessarily adopt such stringent measures – we knew that our prospects depended on openly sharing concerns with the young musicians themselves. Schools closed on 24 February, a mere four days after the first cases were officially reported in Lombardy, while we had spent the whole evening liaising with families for a rehearsal on the 23rd: a number of players had turned up in spite of the growing alarm. We even attempted to offer distanced sessions in our wonderful premises at the headquarters of the Fondazione Pasquinelli in the heart of Milan, an exceptional opportunity for those living on the outskirts to explore and feel at home in different surroundings, which we had looked forward to bringing about.

The awareness of risk, though, clipped our wings, and within a week all teaching was converted to a remote format. Teachers were remarkably quick to adapt and even to find the silver lining in the possibility to offer more focused attention to the single players and singers: a luxury not so easy to come by when striving to make music better because we are all together.

A small group of SONG Onlus musicians at the headquarters of the Fondazione Pasquinelli in Milan rehearsing for “Side by Side” by Sistema Sweden, at its first digital summer camp 16 June 2020. ©Elisabetta Lapadula

It has been a matter of preserving togetherness notwithstanding the compulsory isolation, and the musical soul of Italy emerged brightly at the first impromptu converging of diverse sounds and voices in a colossal outpouring of solidarity on 13 March: La music non si ferma! – The Music Does Not Stop. This provided the cue: for so many sing- and play-alongs, but also for our youngsters, who thence were ready to connect their lonely threads. One after the other, the tapestries of images resonated with consoling sounds, and our task was to shape the spontaneous energy towards steadier purposes. How endearing to hear our most patriotic song of the Resistance, Bella Ciao, embraced by so many kids who only recently became acquainted with Italy!  Music does not stop!

In succession, it was like sparking unrelenting fireworks, as in the “global flashmob” on 24 March as homage to José Antonio Abreu celebrated his amazing legacy in the creation and inspiration of El Sistema programs worldwide.

Our deep-felt commitment to the inclusion of Special Abilities culminated in what we consider our theme song:

We have hands to play,
we have hands to create,
to work, to dream, to grow, to animate, but…
we want hands to reach the sky.

Now is the time to both reap and sow. With the amazingly adaptable teachers and coordinators, we are gathering the results of an extraordinary experience, heartened by the understanding of many ears we could learn something from. The children are aware and lead the way in what our ever-present Maestro Claudio Abbado taught us as a reason to start El Sistema in Italy: music is the greatest school for listening, and listening the best way to learn respect and peace.

Ciao, I am Federico from Milan. I am almost eleven and have been playing clarinet for four years in the Barrio’s Orchestra thanks to SONG. I still remember when I was first handed the little case of the instrument with the recommendation that I should take care of it and practise hard. Over these years I have played in several SONG orchestras and the most beautiful thing is that even when we all play together we can still hear the sound of each one. This month I have participated in the Digital Side By Side with my friends in person and it was fantastic : because after so many months of isolation due to the virus, finding music again was extraordinary and I understood that music can help you overcome the most difficult moments.

SONG Onlus – Sistema Lombardia was one of the first five recipients of  BBT Communities grant in 2019.
See here for details