Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No. 1

September 11, 2003


Vivaldi’s foundlings knew healing power of music

by Sarah Binder

The work of Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi holds lessons for social policy-makers today — not his perennial hits, such as The Four Seasons, but rather his work as a music teacher at a home for abandoned girls in 18th-century Venice.

That was the idea that drew some 150 people from Canada and abroad to a two-day conference held last weekend under the theme, Prevention of maltreatment: from Vivaldi’s foundlings to today.

"The idea of using Venice’s Ospedale della Pietà as a starting-point for a conference on the latest research in child maltreatment (which encompasses abuse and neglect) seemed disconcerting at first, but we bet that putting the two together would work," said Claire Gascon-Giard, co-ordinator of the Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development, which organized the conference along with the Centre of Excellence for Child Welfare, McGill and Concordia.

Concordia staff had a high profile at the conference. Fine Arts Vice-Dean Liselyn Adams sat on the scientific committee, Adams and Dean Christopher Jackson took part in a Friday night concert of Vivaldi pieces written for the Pietà girls, and Lisa Serbin, psychology professor and director of the Centre for Research into Human Development, moderated the conference’s concluding panel.

Concordia music professor and jazz musician Andrew Homzy presented his research into the role social and benevolent institutions — orphanages, schools, houses of correction — played in the development of jazz in the United States. Like the Pietà, these institutions saved many boys who became leading musicians from a life of poverty and worse. Louis Armstrong, for example, first learned to play trumpet at the home for wayward boys where he lived from age 12 to 18.

Louise Lacroix, assistant professor in Concordia’s master’s program in creative arts therapies, discussed her clinical experience with an eight-year-old South American girl and her adoptive mother who were helped through art to resolve emotional and communication problems that were endangering their relationship.

The Pietà, where Vivaldi taught between 1703-1740, provided its charges with social relationships, an education and a means of self-support. Some became among the most gifted musicians in Europe. Those who were not adopted or got married could live their lives out at the home, contributing to its upkeep.

In today’s Canada, conference speakers pointed out, children in protective care are left to fend for themselves as soon as they turn 18, even though they are all too often illiterate and cut off from their social or cultural roots.

"A child brought into protective care will require an additional $1.5 million in services throughout life," said Michael Godman, head of Batshaw Youth and Family Services, at a round-table discussion on structures that society needs to put in place to prevent child maltreatment.

Godman said it was crucial to understand the factors that maintain maltreatment and result in "children who have suffered so much that there’s little we can do to help them."

Despite millions sunk into youth protection across Canada, the workload has gotten heavier. In 1998, close to 135,573 cases of child abuse were investigated and nearly half of these cases were corroborated.

The case for prevention was made in a number of workshops using data from studies of the effectiveness of early intervention with families and mothers at risk. There is now a need to understand the "forces that keep us from implementing community-based prevention programs," Godman said.

Papers presented at the conference were to be posted on the Internet at: