Berliner Festspiele and MaerzMusik – Festival for Time Issues are calling for donations of musical instruments which will be given to the project Music Fund and Berlin-based initiatives working with refugees and immigrants. Music Fund is a humanitarian project which has been supporting musicians and music schools in crisis regions and transitioning countries since 2005 – it collects and restores instruments and passes them on to projects mainly in Africa, the Middle East and Central America. Instruments donated during MaerzMusik will go to our partner projects “Al-Farabi Musikakademie” and “MitMachMusik – ein Weg zur Integration von Flüchtlingskindern e.V.”, both situated in Berlin.

When did you start working with instruments? Did you play an instrument as a kid?

Yes, I started playing the guitar when I was 12. And I always wanted to build my own guitar. When I was 19, I learned how to do that – in Belgium there’s a school for that. After six years there and after building three own guitars I got my diploma as a guitar maker.

What happened after you gained your diploma?

After that I opened my own workshop in my house in the south of Brussels. When I learned about Music Fund for the first time, I was very happy, because I always wanted to be part of a humanitarian project. That’s why I was volunteering at Music Fund for six years, from 2008 till 2013. During those six years I traveled with the founder of Music Fund, Lukas Pairon, to Mozambique, Morocco and Palestine, giving workshops to teach young students how to set a guitar. In 2012, Lukas told me that there was a town in the south of Belgium that would like to give Music Fund a whole building. And that was the opportunity to open our own workshop to repair all the instruments we receive. This project started in 2013, and I was hired by Music Fund as a coordinator of the workshop. Now we have another building near the first one where a young man and his wife from France repair wind instruments.

Are there still young people learning how to repair instruments?

Yes, with the Music Fund project I was two times in Gaza last year. Students come to Belgium to learn long-term guitar making or wind instrument repair during two or three months. And we also travel to other countries with the Music Fund project to offer workshops for one or two weeks.

You said you wanted to collaborate in a humanitarian project. But why focusing on instruments? Why not on money or food?

That’s a good question. There are a lot of NGOs worldwide giving food, medicine and education. My personal feeling is that after the necessary needs, the culture comes in second place. When you see kids in Gaza or Mozambique, the problems are different, but the need of culture is the same. Music is perfect for that because people can grow, and while they learn to play an instrument they can forget their problems. It’s very easy for us in Europe to have a guitar, to buy an instrument on a website, but in Gaza and Mozambique it’s complicated. But the smile of happiness is the same in Gaza, Mozambique or Belgium.

What was the most alien instrument you had to repair? Did you ever get a really strange instrument where you didn’t know what to do?

Yes, sometimes we receive instruments from India, like a sitar, with a lot of strings. And sometimes very old instruments from the 18th century. In these cases we need a documentation about those instruments in order to repair and tune them.

What happens if someone donates a very valuable instrument?

Two weeks ago we received an old instrument from the 19th century. We asked the donator to think about the possibility to sell this instrument and to give the money to Music Fund instead of the instrument in order to enable us to ship a container of instruments to Palestine. That’s just another way to help the association.

Is there a favourite moment for you during the process of instrument repairing?

Yes – when you put the strings on and tune the instrument. It’s always a great moment for me when I hear the sound of a repaired instrument for the first time. Then I know that the guitar sounds great and that the student who will get this instrument will be very happy with it. Sometimes you have a lot of work, sometimes not very much. We receive instruments in all conditions – sometimes they are completely broken, sometimes completely new: We have donators who buy instruments only to give them to Music Fund. They are not musicians, but they like the project and support it this way. And sometimes music schools in Belgium buy a new stock of instruments and donate the old stock – maybe ten clarinets or fifteen trumpets – to Music Fund.

Is there any communication between the donators and the people who receive the instruments?

In fact, we give a code to the donator. After six months, one or two years the donator can ask Music Fund to which place his/her instrument has been sent. Thanks to our data base we can tell them if it’s in Ramallah, Palestine or Haiti. That’s the link between the donator and the musician. Or sometimes donators put little letters inside the box together with the instrumentin order to tell the next musician something about the instrument and the special story they had with it.

When you look at the world today, what do you fear? Or is there something you hope?

I always think positive; I think that music can resolve a lot of things in this world. Working with music, learning music must become obligatory in schools in my opinion. In Belgium we don’t have that in school, but it would be necessary.

How many instruments are given to Music Fund, and how many instruments per year you do repair?

In ten years we have collected between five and six thousand instruments. We repair between 300 and 600 instruments a year and give approximately the same amount to different countries, depending on the projects we support. Last year we sent 240 instruments to Mozambique, this year we will send maybe the same amount to Haiti, and at the end of this year we will donate to Gaza and Ramallah. We have only three or four people working as employees at Music Fund, but we have about 100 volunteers working in instrument repair, organizing the collection of instruments and maintaining the website. It’s a very small organization, but we are very proud of the project. When you are proud of your work and happy about it, I think you can do a good job.

How do you choose where to send the instruments?

At the moment we have projects in Haiti, Marocco, Kinshasa, Mozambique and in the West Bank, Gaza, Ramallah, Nablus and Djenin. Those are the regular projects, maybe we will start a new one this year in Bukavu, that’s in the east of Kongo. Next year we will start new projects in Vietnam and Myanmar. But of course we receive every week an e-mail from another place in the world, asking us if we can sent some instruments. But of course we cannot support every project, we are focusing on serious partners and long-term projects. The most important thing for us is the training of technicians. We make sure that each school is equipped with tools and workshops. After several years training there’s a piano tuner and a guitar and violin maker in each project. Once this is accomplished we can leave the project and start a new one in another place. Then our work is done.

Please donate your instrument at Haus der Berliner Festspiele! Dates: 18 & 19 March, 18:00–22:00 & 20–24 March, 10:00–18:00. From 27 March, instruments can also be handed in at the reception / stage door at Meierottostraße 12 everyday between 7:00 and 22:00.