The Transformative Power of Music


Notas de Paz: An Organization That Highlights the Transformative Power of Music

Ana B. Remos


This Children and Youth Orchestra uses music as an integral part of the education of at-risk children in Cali, Colombia. The organization’s work allows students a safe place to develop the necessary skills to succeed in life through a rigorous and comprehensive music program.


After a long gestation process, on March 1, 2007, the non-profit Notas de Paz (Notes of Peace) was founded in the Colombian city of Cali. On that day Lilly Scarpetta de Pumarejo, a mathematician, realized a goal she had harbored for 25 years. The dream started during a trip to the Salzburg Music Festival in Austria, when Scarpetta overheard a Venezuelan couple, Harold and Matilde Chumaceiro, talking about the incredible work carried out by the Venezuelan maestro Jose Abreu with children in their native country. Maestro Abreu was seeing excellent results with his famous “system” for creating children’s orchestras designed to improve the social and intellectual skills of children in underserved communities. Gustavo Dudamel, director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar is a product of Abreu’s system and the best example of its transformative power.

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Lilly Scarpetta de Pumarejo with the children of Notas de Paz.

Deeply impressed by that conversation, Lilly would spend years studying, searching and talking with experts about the possibility of implementing a similar program in Colombia. The project came to fruition when she founded Notas de Paz in Bellavista, one of the poorest neighborhoods in her native Cali, a city affected by extreme poverty, where gangs and violence can be the normal solution to everyday problems.

Notas de Paz is a children and youth orchestra, which uses music as an integral training for life.

Notas de Paz’s mission is to build a peaceful environment through education and musical training. It is a children and youth orchestra, which uses music as an integral training for life, taking the children into a world of harmony and beauty, where they can find themselves as respectable human beings who are able to produce something as beautiful as a symphony.

In the years since its inception, and thanks to the love and passion of its founder, the organization has more than 150 musical instruments (most purchased by Lilly herself), 362 students and 29 teachers. The Foundation is still housed in a wonderful building in the outskirts of Bellavista, and the children come every day to study, rehearse, do their homework and receive a comprehensive education.

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Notas de Paz Children’s Orchestra.

The place has become the heart of the neighborhood. The parents take care of the gardens, cleaning, and maintenance, and participate in the events organized here. Notas de Paz has become a second home for the kids. They come every day after school or whenever they have free time with the attitude of the child who comes home for safety, support and guidance. They rehearse, play, study, talk or eat with the teachers and counselors and to go to the dentist or the doctor when needed since the organization is responsible for their general development. During their vacations, the children come to the center to clean their instruments, enjoy picnics and join their friends in a wholesome environment.

Every Christmas Lilly enjoys taking all of them to her beautiful country house in Cali, where they swim in the pool, enjoy a barbecue, games, clowns, and receive gifts. The shared passion for music has served not only to rescue them from high risk, it has created a great family: that of Notas de Paz.

Every quarter, the organization performs an academic, musical and psychological assessment of the students, noting the transformative power of music in their accomplishments, both socially and culturally. After they finish high school, the children are offered additional grants to continue their professional music studies at any university if that is their wish. The positive energy of Notas de Paz has transformed the lives of the inhabitants of this mountain neighborhood. As Lilly Scarpetta says: “Every child who learns to play an instrument, discovers a universal language, learns discipline and dedication, and is less likely to wield a weapon or end up in the streets”.  ■


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