Linda Ronstadt On The Promise of Music

11/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

If you were interviewing Linda Ronstadt, would you be tempted to ask her to sing a few lines from your favourite song? Oh, I don't know, maybe "Silver Threads and Golden Needles"? Or "Heat Wave"? As soon as our conversation was set up, I started playing her music. A lot. So, the thought crossed my mind.

Did you know that Linda has become a powerful advocate for music education around the world? (And a New Radical, that is, someone who's putting skills acquired in her career to work on the world's greatest challenges). Did you catch her testimony on Capitol Hill? "In the United States, we spend millions of dollars on sports because it promotes teamwork, discipline, and the experience of learning to make great progress in small increments. Learning to play music together does all this and more." She says music can help us learn other subjects, too (think math). And that it should be available to everyone.

Linda is going to be in Toronto on October 28th for an event called The Promise of Music. For one day, an eclectic mix of high-profile musicians and educators are gathering to bang the drum for music education.

And what a day! Linda is introducing Dr. José Antonio Abreu, this year's recipient of the Glenn Gould Prize. Are you familiar with Dr. Abreu and El Sistema? El Sistema (Spanish for "system") is a music program for children as young as two. It was started in Venezuela and is being hailed as the future of classical music.

El Sistema was founded on the idea that poor kids in Venezuela needed music - that it would help them replace the poverty and violence of their lives with all that music offers. As Abreu says, "Music has to be recognized as an agent of social development in the highest sense because it transmits the highest values - solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion... it has the ability to unite an entire community."

Children from El Sistema make up the players in the Simon Bolivar National Youth Orchestra. The orchestra travels the world, playing to packed houses. Here they are performing for the TED audience and their founder. Dr. Abreu is a New Radical, too. He was an economist who got the idea for this system, in 1975. Here he is at TED. Thirty-five years later, millions of kids around the world are benefiting from El Sistema.

I love TED. But unlike that fabled conference, The Promise of Music is open to everyone. Check out the site for a detailed program. But here's a quick take. The day is divided in two. Choose the morning only, and you'll hear from Ronstadt, Abreu, and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra. You'll also hear about what neuroscience has to tell us about the power of music from Daniel J Levitin, author of "This is Your Brain on Music".

Choose the full-day program, and you'll also take part in interactive sessions that unlock the secrets of El Sistema's success, enjoy presentations by music educators and researchers from around the world, and hear inspiring first-person accounts of the power of music education to change lives. Best of all, you get to network with people who are doing this work now - including well-known musicians. Like Murray McLauchlan, who's MC.

So, did I ask Linda to sing? I did not. But when we meet at The Promise of Music, I just might. And if I can screw up my courage (which is the point, after all), I'll sing along.

Now it's your turn. Do you play an instrument? Sing, even if only in the car or the shower? Are your children studying music? Are you a music teacher? Or are you using music to help teach other subjects? And, just between us, what's your favourite Linda Ronstadt song?

One more New Radical note. Yesterday (September 25) was Earth Overshoot Day. That is, the day when human beings will have demanded all of the ecological "services" that our planet can produce in one year. We're talking about things like growing food and filtering CO2 emissions. From now until December 31st, we'll be depleting resources. It's an interesting new way of thinking about what we're doing to Mother Earth... and ourselves. Check out Global Footprint Network's site for details.

Julia Moulden is on tour, talking about the New Radicals.