Is music an essential human right?

In this guest post, Deborah Borda, President and CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, explains how thinking big and embracing social responsibility led the LA Phil to a groundbreaking new partnership. Ms. Borda will be speaking at our free event on Sunday, October 23rd, with Gustavo Dudamel, Music Director of the LA Phil.

Who would imagine that an orchestra, a conservatory, and a college on opposite coasts would – or could – unite around a common goal? A few short weeks ago, the answer to this question was revealed when the LA Phil announced a groundbreaking new partnership with the Longy School of Music and Bard College to support social change through music. The joint initiative, called Take a Stand, is inspired by Venezuela’s revolutionary music education program, El Sistema, and supports the pioneering field through national conferences and a credentialed teacher training program. In the past, a venture like this – so heavily rooted in social responsibility – may have been considered out of place in the symphony orchestra world. But today, it is precisely this kind of undertaking that we must challenge ourselves to seek out in order to survive and stay relevant.

Bringing Youth Orchestra LA (YOLA), an El Sistema-inspired program, to Los Angeles was bold. Risky, even. We didn’t know how the community would respond to such a radical departure from traditional music education. But four years later, the program is thriving – and there has been a dramatic rise in programs across the country that embrace the philosophy of El Sistema. As the impact of our work became increasingly clear, simply acknowledging YOLA’s ability to inspire others was not enough. In order to incite real change, we need to envision our future – a future in which music is an essential human right.

What makes an initiative like Take a Stand unique is that its motivation was borne out of the social and moral imperative we now have to reach our communities in meaningful ways. It is a natural extension of the artistic imperative that drives our work – and can no longer be isolated from our pursuit of excellence.

— Deborah Borda

Addressing the theme “Creating an Environment for Innovation,” Ms. Borda delivered the following speech during the opening plenary of the 2011 League of American Orchestras National Conference, where she challenged participants to grow their capacity for change and risk-taking. Learn more about Take a Stand.


  1. Rick Robinson says:

    Gee Deborah, I agree with you that we needn’t fear the future so much if we can create some of it ourselves. It will certainly be risky at first and messy at times but the status quo option is suddenly untenable. And the writing has been on the wall long before the 2008 crash. As a symphony musician, playing for the choir is GREAT… but ultimately self-defeating if we can’t prove relevance to ANY of the 93% that avoid concert music. What GOOD are we?

    Personally, I am much more risk-tolerant than most musicians who have kids and spouses. Thus I started 2 ensembles in the Detroit Symphony to take symphonic music to people who avoid Orchestra Hall. One is a “cover band”, the other plays my originals that blend classical well with urban pop, inc. rock, Latin, folk and gospel. I call the style Classical Soul.
    Thus I started talking regularly to our telemarketing salespersons to help them help us and learn how to explain more effectively (more passionately) what the VALUE is. Thus I started a Detroit chapter of Classical Revolution (.org) to attempt to take the music to the masses who enjoy music in nightclubs and restaurants.

    The opportunities are vast and staring us in the face. It’s time to begin staring back.
    In fact, I’ll be leaving DSO just to bring attention to ALL orchestras with my publications and ideas.
    CutTime (.com) makes classical music CLICK with new audiences!

    • Mark Clague says:

      Listening to “Gitcha Groove On!” right now and will try to catch one of your performances in Detroit. Cut Time Simfonica sounds like a fantastic enterprise and I admire your courage in starting a new non-profit venture but it’s clear you have the passion to make it work! Can you tell us a bit more about why you’re devoting your future to this initiative? What have you seen in your interactions with new audiences or kids that has inspired you to make Cut Time your symphony of the future? Is it personally rewarding, a call to service, or both?

      • Rick Robinson says:

        Thanks for your interest Mark! Would love to meet you sometime.

        CutTime® (one word) began with music publishing to increase repertoire for the double bass with transcriptions. It has grown to include the 2 ensembles and 100+ publications, about half of which are for sale and was recently incorporated as CutTime Productions, LLC. As a for-profit artistic social venture, it has a mission to seek a mass market for classical music via touring and recording both ensembles, creating compositions that provide attractive access for new audiences into the classical “worldview” and warming up classical concert formats with informality, laughs, explanations and analogies. CutTime ensembles will also experiment with amplification in clubs and rock venues. We will be the INTRO band for classical music.

        I have felt this purpose building steadily since I first played for a group of black students in Boston. I was tongue-tied, seeing thru THEIR eyes that they had no idea why anyone would want to play classical music because it seemed at best foreign, at worst Uncle Tom-ish. I have since learned to articulate better what is comparatively unique about it and why naysayers might want to give a concert a try. I’m betting my future on it because, without a wife and kids, I CAN take that risk! Life is short… and PURPOSE is more valuable than money and comfort to me.

        In speaking out to audiences, ASSUMING even that most audiences away from Orchestra Hall do not have much experience with classical, I give them some facets for which to listen… facets musicians take for granted. Many times have listeners come up to me after and said they GOT it. This is beautiful music to MY ears!

  2. Rick Robinson says:

    In keeping with your headline, I forgot to add what a friend of mine in the Cleveland Orchestra said, “even the poor have a right to beauty”. I’d extend this to everyone!

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