Agrigento: Advancing Music as Social Action 

The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.

Agrigento: Advancing Music as Social Action 

Maria Lara, Founder and Trustee, Agrigento


Tambores de Siloé presenting “Our Histories in the Music of the Barrio.” Photo: Agrigento.

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-article series in The Ensemble about Agrigento, an emergent organization dedicated to advancing the field of music as social action. Click here  to read the first article.

Music for social change is a field with enormous potential, yet one that has not been fully realized because of a central paradox: a common reliance on musical and educational practices that have little to do with social change. Agrigento, formalized as a music charity in 2020, addresses this paradox by funding musicians and educators who are rethinking established practices and received ideas with the goal of improving the work of music education as social action. Our mission is to listen, support, and share.

As a preliminary step, in 2019, Agrigento produced a scoping report, as detailed in the April issue of The Ensemble. We wanted the first stage of our journey to focus on listening to practitioners and researchers to gather information about issues, needs, and advances in the field. This report provided a platform for supporting fresh thinking and bold practice: we awarded pilot project grants in 2020 and an expanded range of grants in 2021. Listening continues to underpin our work. In our 2021 grant-making, we adopted a participatory approach, which meant working with regional advisors and the International Society for Music Education’s (ISME) Decolonizing and Indigenizing Music Education Special Interest Group to identify potential grantees.

Strengthening the dialogue between research and practice is a central concern. Many of our grantees are both music educators and researchers—they embody this connection. Juliet Hess has developed her influential book Music Education for Social Change into an approachable curriculum that is directly usable by teachers. Sound Connections and Anna Bull’s “Music Lab” explored Youth Voice in a classical ensemble setting, giving rise to a toolkit for music teachers and leaders. Phil Mullen and his colleagues deepened both the practice and the theory of inclusive music pedagogy by reflecting on their activities across four countries and reporting their findings. An important step to changing society through music is to develop appropriate tools (and to make them freely and widely available).

Quillasinga Sound Laboratory, Churo-Lab, Putumayo, Colombia. Photo: Agrigento.

In 2021, we bolstered this aspect of our work by funding four Communities of Knowledge, located in Brazil, Colombia, Mozambique, and the U.S. These are networks of music educators and researchers who are looking to deepen the conversations around music for social change in their respective countries, sharing the latest thinking and practices.

We recognize the vital importance of improved training for the development of this field. Gabrielle Smith, an experienced figure in the Canadian Sistema sector, is working to develop teacher training tools. Similarly, Phil Mullen’s newer project is supporting teachers in the U.K. who work with young people with social, emotional, and mental health difficulties. We also subsidize an online diploma in peacebuilding through music, which is based in Colombia but open to Spanish-speaking participants from other countries.

A logical focus has been on innovation, whether in response to the challenges of Covid-19 (as in the case of Nicaragua’s Chispas Musicales) or simply through a desire to approach socially-oriented music-making in novel ways (for example, Colombia’s Tambores de Siloé has explored constructing digital histories). The Yuva Arts Project 2.0 seeks to open up new spaces for cross-cultural dialogue between young people who are living in two very different contexts, India and Canada, yet with many shared concerns. The use of digital technology (both audio and video) is an important aspect of these projects, as it is for the Soundtracks Project in Costa Rica, which is creating a new digital channel to disseminate information on social media about music, education, and decolonization, and for the Choral Commons, a U.S.-based new media platform promoting social justice in choral music.

Tambores de Siloé filming “Our Histories in the Music of the Barrio.” Photo: Agrigento.

Alongside the search for the new, we also support efforts to recover or renew the old—in particular, musical traditions that have been weakened by colonialism and neocolonialism but that hold out promise for their blending of musical and social elements. In Mexico, Héctor Vásquez seeks to co-create culturally sensitive pedagogical tools together with Indigenous culture bearers. Eduardo Duque and O Coração Batuqueiro, in Rio de Janeiro, have created a space for anti-racist education through samba culture, which has come under pressure in recent times. Tradition and innovation often go hand in hand, as do old and new media. The GLASP Song Story project seeks to foster engagement with Indigenous Australian knowledge through creating digital song stories that merge music with First Language, sound, and narratives of place. The Churo-Lab Project is developing a novel pedagogy based on recovering the sonic practices of the indigenous Quillasinga de la Montaña community of Santiago (Putumayo), Colombia, with the aim of promoting peace and equality.

As our funded projects start to show results, we intend to focus increasingly on sharing the knowledge that has been gained and the tools that have been developed with others pursuing social change through music around the world. Resources and reports from our first year of projects are available for download at our website, and there is much more to come. Watch this space!

Our goal at Agrigento is to support the generation of new ideas and practical tools for the field of music for social change and to foster dialogue and exchange between its many actors. If you share this goal, we would love to hear from you!

For more information on Agrigento and the projects described above, please visit  


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