The Superar Effect: Overcoming Boundaries through ‘Music for All’

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

The Superar Effect: Overcoming Boundaries through ‘Music for All’

Alma Karić, Artistic Director, Superar Bosnia & Herzegovina


The “Superar Hug.” Photo: Branka Kukić.

For the first 17 years of my teaching career, I was content working in music schools with youth choirs and orchestras. That is, mostly content. Like many in this line of work, I’ve always known how powerful music can be in a child’s life, if taught with care and kindness by an astute teacher. It allows the child to explore their inner world and align it with the world outside. Of course, we also know that often, those types of schools require auditions as part of their enrollment processes—demanding certain abilities from a child and inevitably shortening the list of those who can make music. This always bothered me in a way I couldn’t explain.

Back then, I didn’t see an alternative that could be potent and meaningful. I would often forget how young my kids really were, expecting the best possible performance out of them and feeling genuinely disappointed when we didn’t get there as planned. The right notes, the correct tempo and dynamics, the gentle phrasing—they all became bigger than the children in front of me. Recognizing this was my first step toward re-evaluating my entire teaching approach and purpose. I began to understand that music education should not only be goal- and excellence-driven, but purpose-driven as well.

I came to identify the issue as one of perception. Music should be seen as a tool for building up communities, for connecting people; for creating bonds of empathy and acceptance between them. And then, in late 2016, these thoughts manifested Superar in my life. “Superar” is a Spanish word that means “to overcome boundaries/obstacles.” What a wonderful and strong word, I thought immediately.

“We are all Superar.” Photo:

Superar is an El Sistema-inspired initiative, founded in Vienna 13 years ago by the Vienna Boys Choir, Vienna Concert Hall, and Caritas Vienna, that seeks to offer all young people an equitable opportunity through innovative music education. It operates at 26 locations across seven countries—Austria, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovakia, Romania, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. Superar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I work, has a unique approach to offering free and high-quality music programs to all young people: no auditions, no selection process, and no segregation. We aim to create a nurturing environment in the schools and community centers where we work, to help foster both individual growth and team spirit in our students. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a post-war country still struggling on several societal fronts—and music is a uniquely important tool for connecting and building up those communities.

Our work focuses on Superar classes in schools, where we are integrated into curriculums, and on Superar programs in after-school activities (usually in community centers). Classes are held two or three times per week for every group. In designing our curricula, we start with the source: the teacher. Superar’s teachers are active, focused on finding innovative approaches that work in group settings. Often, body percussion exercises and various activities—call-and-response games, concentration activities, improvisation tasks—keep the kids most engaged. For nearly every song we sing, we create accompanying choreography or movement for the students. This helps them memorize the lyrics and learn more about interpretation in music-making. Beyond that, it helps us teachers, encouraging us to regularly construct new, interesting activities for our students.

We currently work with 350 children and young people, serving over 600 participants over the past five years of active engagement. Some students have been with us since the very beginning; for them, Superar is not just a choir or an orchestra—it is family, a circle of trust, a safe haven. The pandemic years have proven this many times over.

Students show support for children’s rights. Photo: Klaudija B. Selmanović.

One of our current programs is a female youth choir, Superar Cadenza, comprised of girls and young women ages 15–22. Twice a week, we sing, talk, share, and discuss all things music, art, and life. Some girls sing very well. Others come just because they need support—a place where they feel safe and understood. Some of them struggle with money, some with depression. These days, they help each other find jobs and finish school papers—we even occasionally do math homework after singing, as one of our girls is an international math champion. I see them go out together, celebrating birthdays and being truly devoted to one another. And I wonder: would they ever meet and bond like this if it weren’t for Superar? Would they dare to come sing somewhere that requires perfect pitch and vocal range? Maybe some would, but, for most, the answer is probably not.

We don’t want youth who belong to any kind of marginalized group to feel stigmatized; we want to help them grow with their communities and across social groups. Empowering all children to participate in our program teaches them important social skills, awakens their curiosity, and builds up their self-esteem and sense of teamwork. It helps them share the momentum of performance with others, losing the prejudice and need to compare oneself to others and becoming aware of the threads that connect us. That’s all true, and so is this: it also simply leads to more music. In a country still working to overcome boundaries, that’s worthy enough.