This Monday, students and staff of Goshen College were joined by community members in attending a Keynote speech in Sauder Concert Hall entitled Tocar y Luchar: Using music as a vehicle for social change, presented by guest speaker Karen Zorn. Zorn, now president of the Longy School of Music of Bard College and a 1984 graduate of Goshen College, spoke of the influence that El Sistema, the famous Venezuelan music program, is having on music today and the potential that it has as to improve the lives of children, especially those living in poverty.

Zorn spoke of the decline in jobs and opportunities for music students graduating from conservatories and contrasted it to the growing interest in using music as a catalyst for change.

According to Zorn, “If you view music as an elite pursuit, then the world is getting smaller and smaller, but if you view musicians as agents of change, then the world needs more musicians.”

This change in the focus of conservatory education at Longy, from an elitist society to one where music is part of a greater process creates an entirely different environment for graduating musicians. The customizable nature of El Sistema programs means that they can be adapted to fit the setting in which they are placed.

The emphasis of El Sistema programs on constant and rapid progress, with musicians of different skill levels coming together in a group setting, is a large part of what makes it influential. The students become each other’s family, and music becomes a bonding experience and creates community.

Music Department chair and Professor Beverly Lapp said that “this is very exciting for how it fits our mission here at Goshen…using whatever our discipline is to work for social justice.”

The speech was attended by students and faculty members from all different fields of study and garnered enthusiastic audience response.