By Alex Venancio
Musician and music therapist, Sharon Katz, was born into the apartheid era of South Africa’s history.
In 1992, she formed the country’s first, multicultural, 500-member children’s choir to unite people through music and expression.
"I made up my mind from a very, very early age that I was going to try to beat it, try to beat the system. I hated the racist regime,” says Katz.
To celebrate South African Freedom Day, Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., held a film screening of “When Voices Meet,” a documentary which follows the journey of the choir aboard the Peace Train as they traveled throughout the country of South Africa spreading messages of acceptance and unity.
Sharon Katz used music to fight apartheid. (Photo by Alex Venancio)
Vivien Marcow Speiser, a professor at Lesley University, also from South Africa, believes in the spreading of pluralism and healing through art and expression. She coordinated the film screening at Lesley University, in addition to performing at the event.
The Peace Train project was essentially a product of war. It was a time of civil war and unrest in South Africa, so the best way to spread the message of the choir was to remain hopeful for peace and to travel around the country, sharing positivity.
“My idea was to teach children of all different races to sing the same songs and to express themselves culturally through music, through dance, and to come together on a large scale and express optimism and hope for the future,” says Katz.
The film tells the story of the Peace Train project in South Africa and is brought to the United States at a time of great parallel.
“The work is really important. It’s critical at the moment. In the United States, it’s so important to remain a pluralistic society, to maintain a society where people respect one another. This is a country made up of immigrants,” says Katz.
In 2016, a Peace Train project was mounted in America, called ‘Putting the United back in the United States of America.'
“We converged in New York City with a huge concert there, and then we traveled together for almost two weeks,” says Katz. She believes that the importance of this project is extremely relevant to today’s social and political climate in the U.S.
Katz cannot imagine herself doing anything else, and says that there will be progress for as long as there is cultural exchange and people continue to experience and accept one another.
“It’s about celebrating each person’s uniqueness and their own culture. It’s what makes the world go round and it’s what creates peace. If we don’t have peace, then there’s no prosperity and no enjoyment of life.”