Global movement puts music at the heart of Brussels education


The local chapter of Jeugd en Muziek has created a series of workshops and activities to make music more accessible to Dutch-speaking students in Brussels

The sound of music

Since the beginning of the Second World War, Jeugd en Muziek (Youth and Music) has taught children the liberating power of music. Starting this year, the non-profit is focusing its attention on students and teachers in the Dutch-speaking schools in Brussels.

Jeugd en Muziek was established in 1940 at the fine arts centre Bozar, at a time when the German occupying forces were trying to gain control of cultural life in Belgium through organisations including the Hitler Youth. Hoping to open their minds during a period of oppression, Jeugd en Muziek offered youngsters an alternative: classical music concerts that were free of Nazi propaganda.

When the war came to an end, instead of dissolving itself, Jeugd en Muziek became an international movement that has since spread to all continents. Its motto since 1945 has been “enabling young people to develop through music across borders”. Thanks to the international network, countries can learn from each other’s experiences and set up projects that have already proven effective elsewhere.

Over the years, Jeugd en Muziek has also developed chapters for young Dutch-speakers in Flanders and Brussels. Last year, however, the Flemish chapter, Jeugd en Muziek Vlaanderen, received a negative evaluation from the Flemish government and lost its subsidies. The move threatened the existence of Jeugd en Muziek Brussel as well.

Earlier this year, the Flemish Community Commission (VGC), which represents the interests of the Flemish government in Brussels, signed a three-year agreement with the Brussels chapter, ensuring its existence until at least 2020. The €180,000 budget for this year has a clear objective: to bring music to Dutch-speaking pupils in Brussels.

Broader minds

“We used to reach out to young professional musicians too, but we will now focus almost exclusively on students,” says Patrick Lenaers, Jeugd en Muziek Brussel’s general director. It will organise classroom activities and set up after-school programmes and summer camps.

“We provide non-formal education,” Lenaers says. “It’s not meant to teach children how to read music scores, it's more a fun way to pique their interest.” During an interactive concert, for example, primary school pupils are encouraged to dance and sing along to Balkan music. They also get to experiment with music production software.

Our workshops give children confidence. A student who doesn’t speak fluent Dutch can still prove they can sing

- Patrick Lenaers

The activities are meant to broaden their worldview, adds Lenaers. As part of one of the workshops, musicians take a group of students on a walk around Brussels, to show them places that inspire them the most. In another, musicians with foreign roots expose children to the musical traditions of their home countries and show them, for example, how to dance at a Turkish wedding or how to make traditional instruments from Brazil.

For a more technical workshop, Jeugd en Muziek Brussel has students create a sound box, a hollow wooden structure found in most string instruments. “You don’t have to be good at writing music,” says Lenaers. “For creating it, technical skills are just as valuable.”

New horizons

To expand their worldview and encourage their creativity, the organisation aims to give every child the chance to discover the broad range of musical elements and styles. “Our workshops also give children confidence,” says Lenaers. “A student who doesn’t speak fluent Dutch can still prove they can sing, by doing it in their native language.”

In addition to activities, Jeugd en Muziek Brussel will also train teachers to integrate music in their lessons. “We will show them how to inspire their students by organising lessons around innovative music technology and multimedia applications, for example,” says Lenaers.

Another plan is to create an online platform that could be used by classes to share their experiences with each other. Teachers would be able to upload videos of classroom activities or use the platform as a visual aid when presenting their ideas to others.

In Autumn, Jeugd en Muziek Brussel will move to the Brede School Nieuwland, an education campus in the Marollen area of the city. At Nieuwland, the organisation will have its own dedicated space that should make it easier for hosting workshops and networking with potential partners.

The campus already houses Met-X, a creative space that brings together local and foreign musicians, and the arts education services of the City of Brussels. This should help children participating in activities organised by Jeugd en Muziek make the eventual transition to a more formal music education.

Photo courtesy Jeugd en Muziek