Culture is essential for the stability of any society and Myanmar has a rich cultural and musical heritage that must be promoted.

Several years ago, playing music in Myanmar was extremely difficult and risky, and artists were often sent to prison if their lyrics were considered offensive. It was a dark time for musicians, whose freedom of expression was completely censored.

However, in spite of the risks, musicians continued to play and for many performers this act and their music was a form of expression and creativity, giving them a sense of hope. During these years, officials in Myanmar didn’t see the benefits of teaching and playing music and so very few resources were put in place to support this discipline in the general education system.

Today, as Myanmar is going through a political transition and has instituted a series of reforms, it is realizing that it is essential that their cultural and traditional heritage is preserved for the next generation. Nonetheless, progress is slow and there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

During the Young Global Leaders (YGL) Annual Summit in Myanmar, a group of YGLs involved in art and entertainment visited the Gitameit Music Centre, a music school founded in 2003. They experienced at first hand the power and importance of music to Myanmar’s culture and saw the social role the music centre played in the local community. Once the school also used the surplus funding it received to buy food and medicine for the local community.

The school has almost 100 students, aged between 15 to 30 years old, who have the opportunity to learn about different types of music – classical, local culture, jazz and blues. There is also an “a cappella” choir-group for students to participate in. It is an activity that gives the people hope and engages the youth in the community.

Although this is an example of what is possible, resources are scarce and the list of deficiencies is long, including a shortage of teachers with proper training, a shortage of instruments and a lack of funding to provide scholarships.

Although the country is going through a transition and is trying to keep pace with economic reforms, the money that is being generated is not being used to support these schools. The government is facing many different challenges and music and musical education is not seen as a priority.

However, music and musical education are essential to society. It is a universal language that promotes dialogue among different “voices”. Music schools not only train future artists to be young professionals but they are also an enabler for youth community engagement, for children’s intellectual development and a source of leadership.

By investing in their young voices, Myanmar will in the long run become a strong cultural hub. Indeed, if the schools find a way to increase their resources and the number of qualified teachers by having some exchanges with different regions across the world, this will not only allow the organization of music events and festivals around the country but it will also increase tourism in the country and allow local people to express their creativity and emotions.

We should not underestimate our role as global ambassadors in drawing more attention to the power of music and the part it will play in developing the skills and the potential of the future generation of artists in Myanmar.

Author: Francesca Colombo is General Director of the International Music Festival MITO SettembreMusica and a 2011 Young Global Leader

Image: A young man plays the guitar in Yangon REUTERS/Damir Sagolj