Lessons learned and awarded after almost a year of music under lockdown

Our Open Music School received the Active for Democracy and Tolerance Prize due to its outstanding work throughout such a difficult year. M. Ragıp Zık, our head of communications and partnerships, writes his opinions about community building through music under lockdowns and underlines the need to address the digital divide in the advent of 10 December, Human Rights Day.

Give Something Back to Berlin did it again! Our Open Music School received the Active for Democracy and Tolerance 2020 Prize of the Alliance for Democracy and Tolerance (Aktiv für Demokratie und Toleranz 2020 Preis des Bündisses für Demokratie und Toleranz). Every year, the prize is given to civil society projects and initiatives that address xenophobia, racism, and antisemitism. This is the tenth award Give Something Back to Berlin has won since it was founded in 2013. However, 2020 has not been an easy year for anyone and the Open Music School was no exception.

The Open Music School has once again moved online since mid-October. The project had resumed its physical activities – albeit very cautiously – only for a brief period due to the significant decrease in the number of Covid-19 cases in Berlin after the first wave of the virus in Europe and the lockdowns of the last spring.

The decision to move online, which was ahead of the federal government’s introduction of stricter measures in both spring and autumn, did not only aim to continue the regular class schedule, but also to provide a space of support and interaction in these difficult times of isolation. The outcome of this online experience during both lockdown periods proves to be twofold: On the one hand, the continuation of the Open Music School activities indeed helped many people to develop a sense of belonging to a community and was useful to break the feeling of isolation. On the other hand, it revealed the hazards of the digital divide, even in the middle of Berlin, a thriving city for digital startups and some of the tech giants. Many people within our community expressed their frustration with the lack of technical infrastructure in their household to allow them to attend the Open Music School activities.

Give Something Back to Berlin approached the problem innovatively and recorded some of these sessions to make them available as videos to be watched later. We also built an instrument library with the help of individual donations that would allow our participants to borrow instruments to train at home. However, as our community members would know very well, our projects, including those of the Open Music School, are more than just instructive activities to follow. Our classes on guitar, ukulele, and piano connect people in a way that would not have been possible in a regular music school. To increase the feeling of a cosy atmosphere in online interactions, we introduced a new weekly class on music theory but in the form of a pyjama party, where participants can discuss music in a relaxed environment, even in their pyjamas!

Find more on how the Open Music School addressed the difficulties during the lockdowns in this Berliner Zeitung article based on an interview with our Program Manager Tom Young and Gaby D’Annunzio, a volunteer and coordinator at our Open Music Lab.

We are approaching the end of 2020, and it has been almost a year since the coronavirus was first officially detected in Europe. Many civil society organisations, including Give Something Back to Berlin, mobilised their resources to move their activities online to continue their activities and address people’s needs. However, the problem of the digital divide persists even in industrialised societies where access to technology is taken for granted. Internet access is considered to be part of everyday life, but challenging periods, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, reveal the technological (and socio-economical) gap between those who live next to each other, fellow inhabitants of the same town.

On 10 December, Human Rights Day, we stand in solidarity with those who have suffered from isolation and become vulnerable throughout the lockdowns. The recent pandemic drew our attention to the right to Internet access not only from a restriction perspective but also to consider it as a progressive instrument to address the hazards of the digital divide. With our experience from running activities online throughout 2020, we are now ready to brainstorm on how to make our projects more accessible in both online and offline terms in the new year. We would love to hear from you on this and have your input in our discussions.

May 2021 be a year that brings us physically close to each other again. We might then celebrate publicly what the Open Music School has achieved and dance together to the Open Music Lab’s album that was released last summer – Redox. Just click here or on the image below to listen to the songs in the album.