Those attending include unaccompanied underage asylum seekers who arrived in 2015 as well as children and young people with refugee or migration backgrounds: the classes also include a mix of young Swedish pupils who are facing different kinds of adversity.
The orchestral activity aims to achieve important musical results that empower and boost the pride of participants. Dream Orchestra’s purpose is not to train these young people to be professional musicians, but rather provide opportunities and develop their social and emotional skills for a healthy future in Sweden. An innovative learning tool was created to promote wellbeing and provide a safe place for its participants. Dream Orchestra’s doors are open, all year round, to anyone who wants to take part in this joyful, integrating learning environment. Workshops for orchestral rehearsals, small groups and individual classes are offered for free without need of prior knowledge of playing a musical instrument.
The Fika, (Swedish tea time) between rehearsals, is when student parents can take part, helping out with the preparation, allowing them to have access to new possibilities for bonding and integrating while their children receive workshops on social media, safeguarding and improving their Swedish language skills.
Dream Orchestra aims to further develop the innovative learning model that has been implemented over the past four years with training and evaluation to guarantee steady and sustainable development in Göteborg and other Swedish communities. Young unaccompanied asylum-seekers, mainly from Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea, who have been participating in the Orchestra for some time and have shown their commitment with the activity, have learned through peer teaching to become young leaders. They can borrow an instrument of their own choosing for free and with an academic workload of 16 hours per week they study their instrument, rehearse three times a week in the Orchestra, lead sectional workshops under supervision. They must achieve technical and musical results that require communication and team-building skills for which they receive musical, instructional and personal training. Social gatherings with coffee and a meal to exchange personal experiences and thoughts are arranged between and after rehearsals on a weekly basis and mentorships are provided with the support of volunteers.
Learning a musical piece together increases empathy levels, the ability to relate to others, to learn to tolerate differences, and to improve the skills needed for teamwork. Through peer teaching it has been possible to consolidate an intensive activity in learning and performing musical art that contributes to the development of human and ethical values for life representing an extraordinary resource to improve self-concept and self-esteem. By learning to play a musical instrument in the Symphony Orchestra which for most of them is something totally new and so foreign to their previous life experience, it allows them to forget, while being at the Orchestra, the difficulties and traumas they have gone through. They have grown into responsible young leaders, committed to their education and work. A few have already graduated and got a job, which enables them to stay in Sweden. Learning how to teach music in practice at Dream Orchestra has allowed them to develop the social and emotional skills necessary when pursuing their careers in Sweden.
When starting out at Dream Orchestra the pupil is welcomed into a musical family. The students learn from the first day that their presence is important. If they miss a rehearsal they know their ‘voice’ will be missed and the orchestra will not sound the same. They learn that their participation matters and that they have responsibilities towards their new musical community. They learn to appreciate how deeply other people depend on them and that it is important that they can be trusted. By receiving that same treatment from others they start to be able to trust others. They learn to respect different cultures and ways of thought and speech. By interacting with Swedish children and young people who are also vulnerable and marginalised circumstances themselves, along with others from more stable families, the young people with refugee and immigrant backgrounds get the opportunity to widen their social network and integrate into society.
The Dream Orchestra program initially aimed to reach out to 70 young asylum seekers but today, 300 students, most of them refugees and asylum seekers, have already participated. Dream Orchestra has managed to provide children and young people, including some who have experienced trauma, with a safe space while helping them increase their self-confidence and more generally, their trust in society. Many of the unaccompanied minors who were just 15 on arrival in Sweden. Five years on and they have developed their language skills and attained or completed higher secondary education, and have started either a job or university studies. Music has become an important part of their lives and a companion in their spare time.
The story has not always ended well: immigration politics has been the cause of some attendee deportations but Dream Orchestra reports that the time they spent in the ensemble has given them the tools to persevere as they keep in touch.
The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (GSO) and the Gothenburg University recognise Dream Orchestra as a role model for musical education. GSO involves Dream Orchestra in all of its events where a youth orchestra is required and the University students of the teacher training program do their practice at Dream Orchestra.
Where it all began: one week after this visit to an asylum centre in Angered, a suburb in north Gothenburg, Sweden in 2016 to meet and perform for a group of 14-16-year-old boys who had arrived a few months before, unaccompanied from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and Eritrea, the Conductor Ron Davis Alvarez started the Dream Orchestra. Many of those boys joined that orchestra. After that he visited other asylum centres and more young people joined the Orchestra. Here he plays an excerpt of the Hungarian Rhapsody by Franz Liszt on the violin.
Ockenden International’s four cash prizes recognise and reward innovative projects that deliver evidential self-reliance to refugees and/or displaced people, the hallmark of Ockenden International since its inception in 1951. The four annual prizes are open to projects or programmes focused on Internally Displaced People (IDP)/refugee self-reliance anywhere in the world. The other nine 2021 finalists (with the other three winners italicised) are:
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