Music is a universal language. When I was a teenager, the person who taught me that language was Laurelle Augustyn.
Laurelle is a talented singer and musician who plays several instruments. Photo: John Shisko
Every week I would sit in her class as she passed on her passion and joy through song. When I joined her senior choir in my final year of high school, along with my younger sister Emma, it was like pulling back the curtain on a world that I had only seen glimpses of. The pieces Laurelle meticulously practiced with us would transport me. She taught us to feel not just the words we were singing, but the way the notes reflected meaning through sound.
Those hours with Laurelle culminated in a music tour to Europe that we will never forget. We sang in churches, schools, a shopping mall, at an abbey, and in a former concentration camp.
My sister and I (the two blondes) performing with our high school choir. Photo: Radford family
We took home more than just memories from that trip. Emma and I practiced a harmonized duet that we performed together at some of the venues. Throughout the trip, I watched as my sister Emma, a shy girl who struggled with being bullied, transformed into a brilliant soprano singer.
At one venue, there was only one mic, and it was agreed that Emma would sing on her own. I stood on the sidelines with tears in my eyes as Emma’s voice echoed in the public space, stopping people in their tracks. Her talent, lovingly tended by Laurelle, gave her the courage to be herself. That was the magic that Laurelle gifted us.
These days, Laurelle shares that magic as a solo artist, and has just released her debut album
. In the summer of 2016, she sang at my sister’s wedding. The community she built with her students still holds strong, but has grown to include a diverse group of musicians, artists and music lovers.
Laurelle performed at my sister Emma's wedding, and so did Emma! Photos: Sarah Davison Photography
“I have a deep desire for connectedness in community,” Laurelle tells me. “There is a unique connection that happens through music and music-making. I believe that vulnerability and a willingness to expose parts of our inner self opens the door to intimacy and connectedness.”
As her students, my sister and I felt that connectedness with our schoolmates as we travelled through Europe. It was a bond that has stuck with us through the years.
“As a teacher, my heart was so full whenever I could see the love of music in the eyes of my students,” Laurelle shares. “And I am deeply moved and feel a connection with other musicians from developing countries (or, any country!) when I see and/or hear their music.”
Laurelle and her band performing. Photo: Laurelle Augustyn
When I came across the story of Isabel, a violin teacher in Guatemala, I couldn’t help but think of Laurelle. Just as Laurelle gave my sister the gift of confidence through song, Isabel is passing on her extraordinary talents to a younger generation.
Isabel comes from a difficult past. After her abusive father died when she was a child, Isabel and her siblings spent their days doing chores to help their family survive. At school, Isabel was bullied like my sister was. But in Isabel’s case, the bullying targeted her family’s situation and her traditional Mayan clothing.
Things changed when she was 12 years-old. Isabel was invited to participate in a World Vision music program on Saturdays, where she learned to play the violin.
Isabel, now in her 20s, plays the violin. Photo (and at top of page): Heidi Isaza
“I felt really excited...it was hard for my family to get opportunities like this one,” Isabel says. “There were many problems at home back then, so the centre was like a refuge for me. Saturday was a relief because all week long was a lot of heavy work.”
Isabel’s teacher, Martín Corleto, encouraged her. “He said that we had more opportunities as women than just getting married and that we shouldn’t let people discriminate against us because we wear our typical clothing. We have to fight for opportunities and new paths,” Isabel remembers.
Because of his advice, Isabel earned her teaching certificate for the Suzuki method, becoming the highest certified music teacher in Guatemala. She works in her community, and in a neighbouring community, bringing music to children, just as Martín did for her.
Isabel says that things are slowly changing in the community. At first, attendance in her classes was low, because the children had to work to support their families.
Now, she says, the parents are thinking differently. “We’re going to play in the national theater, and they’re saying, ‘If they can do things like that at this young age, what will they do when they grow up?’ They can see a different future for them,” Isabel says.
And Isabel sees a different future for them as well. As she proudly wears her traditional Mayan clothes, little girls in her program are beginning to take pride in their heritage as well. Her courage gives her students courage too.
Laurelle and Isabel have achieved some incredible victories, for themselves and for their students, with the help of their communities. Join us as we partner with communities like Isabel’s through Village2Village
, to achieve small wins that will ultimately help them triumph over poverty for good!
Some of Isabel's young students. Photo: Heidi Isaza
With files from Heidi Isaza.