By Andrea Gordillo
We don’t often see our artists actively utilizing their talents in a direct, practical manner for social advocacy. Of course art has, by its nature, an impact on people’s lives and a voice in social and political commentary, but it is quite another thing to consciously use art to directly change something about the world and the people in it. This is exactly what Mona Golabek, internationally acclaimed pianist, author, recording artist, radio host and star of our upcoming presentation, The Pianist of Willesden Lane, has achieved. Not only does her work move millions, she has founded a not-for-profit organization, Hold On To Your Music, that aims to “expand awareness and understanding of the ethical implications of world events such as the Holocaust, and the power of the arts, especially music, to embolden the human spirit in the face of adversity.” Through books, an educational outreach initiative, radio shows, documentaries and a play, she has founded an organization that spreads a story that inspires everyone and anyone who hears it.
“Hold On To Your Music” was named after the last words spoken to Mona’s mother, Lisa Jura, by her mother in 1938 Vienna. When the Nazi regime invaded Austria Lisa was sent to England on the kindertransport (a program designed to save children prior to Nazi invasion). Lisa, who dreamed of being a concert pianist, turned to her music for solace and comfort in the unfamiliar English refugee hotel she had to call her home. Her mother, who loved Lisa enough to lose her forever for her safety, parted with Lisa with the words “Hold on to your music. It will be your best friend in life.”
Mona Golabek grew up with this story as she was exposed to music from the age of four. She says of her mother and her childhood experience:
“She told me fantastic tales of that journey from old-world Vienna to a rambling orphanage at 243 Willesden Lane in London. She spoke about mysterious individuals like Aaron, Johnny “King Kong,” Mrs. Cohen who became a mother to thirty refugees, and Hans, the blind boy who waited faithfully each day for her in the basement of the hostel where she practiced the piano as the Blitz ravaged London.”
This story inspired Golabek to excel at her music, earning her accolades such as a Grammy nomination, the Avery Fisher Career Grant and the People’s award of the International Chopin Competition. Upon seeing the effect music can have on people, Golabek founded Hold On To Your Music in the hopes of spreading the lessons her mother’s story had taught her.
Hold On To Your Music provides copies of Golabek’s book, The Children of Willesden Lane, to classrooms and libraries across the nation with an eye toward making it a timeless classic for young people, spreads the themes inherent in the Hold On To Your Music mission through the book’s city-wide readings, district and state curriculum adoptions, projects for television, live theatre productions and website. Hold On To Your Music has developed a book-gifting program to provide copies of The Children of Willesden Lane at reduced rates for classrooms, libraries and communities around the country.
This organization, as well as the story that inspired it, is a lesson about life, about love and about faith. Its theater project, The Pianist of Willesden Lane, will run at ArtsEmerson from November 23 until December 16, 2012.
Listen to some of Mona Golabek’s musical selections related to The Children of Willesden Lane here.