Music and Humanitarianism

In his keynote address at the Music Without Borders 2016 Concert, Dr. James Orbinski’s explores the overlap between music and humanitarianism, and explains how each is an expression of commitment towards excellence, beauty, love, and a world without borders:

"There are many similarities between basic humanitarianism and the power, energy and vitality of music in what is so beautifully captured and presented here tonight... Deep in my own centre, I feel a common sense of unity between this idea and experience of music, and the experience of what I know to be humanitarianism...

At its root, humanitarianism is about entering into that space where you are in relationship to other human beings—where you see the other not as an object, not as a subject, but as a fellow being. And in that relationship, one acts where the other is unable to act for themselves. One acts in a manner that is very much focused on and very much seeks to relieve suffering. And so, in a certain way, it is a kind of relationship that is rooted in the best words that I can find to describe, it’s rooted in a kind of "being and becoming." Music very much comes from that same place of "being and becoming." The resonance of music, the sound of music, its reverberations, bring us into that relationship of "being and becoming." And music, in many ways, is a window into and an offering from that "being and becoming."


The 2016 Music Without Borders concert was a celebration of music from around the world, played by some of Canada's best youth musicians. The evening began with a fusion of traditional Indian Carnatic and Western music and a hand-drumming song sung by an all-Nations group, Red Rhythm. Bakudan Taiko ended the evening with its own offering of traditional drumming, this time from Japan. Ravel's bluesy violin sonata led into a thrilling scherzo for piano by Chopin, while David Popper's cello quartet was a celebration of the beautiful sound of that instrument. The virtuosic violin solo piece "Zigeunerweisen" or "Gypsy Airs" by Sarasate contrasted with a piano quartet playing a boisterous fantasy on themes from Bizet's "Carmen." The sound of jazz brought another dimension to the concert, culminating in an original composition played by the Carter Brodkorb Quartet. Three other original compositions were also featured, as soundtracks to the video "Let's Be Humanitarians" and as a Music Without Borders theme song that ended off the evening.


Classical Music

Jazz and Pop

Traditional and Fusion

Original Compositions

Should we be humanitarians?

What does being a humanitarian mean? Why should we be humanitarians? What forces are for or against humanitarians? 

A recent report issued by the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict (PILAC) highlights the complexity of these questions. The report indicates that doctors who provide medical aid to wounded enemies now face prosecution. This raises a question—is there a general humanitarian principle that we should commit to above all else?

At the Music Without Borders 2016 Toronto ConcertDr. James Orbinski will speak to us about why youth should be humanitarians. But we are also interested in your thoughts on these questions. So we invite you to submit posts (max 500 words, could also be multi-media) to start a conversation about humanitarianism on our blog. 

USMC Archives, “Navy Corpsman Rendering Aid, Tarawa, November 1943,”  Flickr ,   CC BY 2.0.

USMC Archives, “Navy Corpsman Rendering Aid, Tarawa, November 1943,” FlickrCC BY 2.0.