Skoll Foundation


Sonidos de la Tierra

Skoll Awardee(s): Luis Szarán
Award Year: 2005
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Education

(Click here to print)

“Playing music provides a vehicle for self-expression, for gaining the admiration of one’s peers and improving self-esteem. It instills discipline and rewards persistence and hard work. Likewise, participating in a musical ensemble teaches patience, cooperation, and the art of listening; encourages precision and the pursuit of excellence; and promotes a sense of belonging and community. It is activities and values such as these that young people in Paraguay need in order to overcome the feeling of social malaise and the culture of violence that afflict so many of their peers.”

Sub-Issue: Secondary Education

Young people living in poor areas have few opportunities for constructive recreation and often fail to develop the self-esteem and sense of purpose essential to their development as responsible adults.

The Skoll Awardee: Luis Szarán is an internationally known composer and conductor, maestro of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Asunción, Paraguay. The eighth child of struggling farmers, he was “discovered” by a prominent Paraguayan musician and given the opportunity to study with master teachers in Europe. His experience drove him to found “Sonidos de la Tierra” (Sounds of the Land) in early 2002, adapting an approach pioneered in Venezuela, Colombia, and Costa Rica. Sonidos’ program engages entire towns in supporting music education and performance, and in so doing, creates new ways of thinking about development challenges. The program provides musical leadership from the maestro and a corps of itinerant professors, and financial assistance to acquire the instruments needed to start. Luis. Szarán is widely quoted as saying that “young people who play Mozart by day do not break windows at night.” The project also supports studios where artisans construct and repair instruments, earning substantial income and keeping the project supplied, and is engaging its students and teachers in reviving and documenting the traditional music of Paraguay.  At the time of the Award, Sonidos was working in 18 towns, reaching 1,700 young people, whose performance in school had been documented to improve by up to 25 percent.

Impact since joining the portfolio in 2005:

  • Sonidos de la Tierra today reaches more than 14,000 young people from Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Uruguay.
  • Music schools and youth orchestras are currently carrying out programs in more than 180 cities, towns, and rural and slum schools.
  • More than 400 musical instruments have been build at the organization’s workshops, including instruments made from materials recycled from trash.
  • In 2012, Sonidos launched a new program, the H20 Orchestra, with instruments made of bottles, hoses, pipes, and funnels, to educate about the importance of water.
  • In October 2013, Sonidos broke the Guinness World Record for the largest harp ensemble, with a performance by 420 Paraguayan harpists that more than doubled the previous record.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.