‘If something is beautiful, it should be shared’

Marco de Souza from Amsterdam, founder of the Leerorkest (‘learning orchestra’)

Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau since 28 May 2021

Marco de Souza

‘When I was as young as 14, I gave music lessons and organised concerts for poor children in a slum in Brazil. Later I came to the Netherlands to study at the Utrecht Conservatorium. Like any musician I hoped to make beautiful things, but I also wanted to give back.’

‘I’m someone with an entrepreneurial spirit, and as a music teacher I was always starting different projects. When I was teaching at a music school Veenendaal, I managed to put on a Baroque opera in which the whole school took part. Later, I became the head of a small music school in the Bijlmer neighbourhood of Amsterdam. There, I was able to combine my musical, organisational and social interests.’

The origins of the Leerorkest

‘The pupils at the music school weren’t your typical “neighbourhood kids”, and that’s the group I wanted to reach. I often saw children walking by and peering inside. And I could see them thinking: “That looks like fun. I wish I could do that.” But they never came inside. So my idea was: if the kids are having a hard time coming to us, we should go to them. Music does so much to enrich our lives, especially for children who may not have an obvious gift for it. We started out at a primary school that believed in our ideas.’

‘The way the Leerorkest works is that pupils get started right away on making music together. In the beginning they can’t read or play music. Music requires a variety of skills, which the children don’t even know they have. Tapping into those skills often helps boost their self-confidence. And then there’s also a social dimension. They learn how to function in a highly diverse group. Everyone is an important part of the whole. In a playful way, these children are taught how to concentrate and to have respect for others.’

‘My thinking was: if something is beautiful, it should be shared. This applies to all the material, all the instruments and all the knowledge. Everything was available to be downloaded. Other orchestras modelled on ours started popping up around the country. And in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and Security we also set up similar groups in Curaçao, Aruba and Bonaire.’

An essential part of society

‘I was awarded the honour while I was doing some volunteer work. I came close to having the decoration pinned onto my painting clothes. The chair of the orchestra got me to come the storage space where we kept the instruments with a story about a wealthy benefactor who was interested in donating to the Leerorkest. There was a suit waiting for me. I baulked a bit at the whole thing, because I was supposed to be helping our volunteers with the painting work. That’s when I saw the mayor and a camera so my family in Brazil could watch the ceremony.

‘To be honest, I wasn’t too familiar with the whole tradition of royal honours. But at that moment I noticed that I was deeply touched. The honour was presented to me, but it’s also a tribute to all the other people who helped make these accomplishments possible. And it gave me and other Dutch people with a non-Western background a deeper sense of being an essential part of Dutch society.