The world is so much bigger when viewed from the height of a child: the wonder (or, vice versa, struggle) in discovering it and scaling it is potentially multiplied. Christmas is a fairytale time of the year: the story is usually the same – which we see in film and printed in books – with the naughty and nice, the usual dose of hijinks and the inevitable satisfaction of a happy ending which our young beneficiaries are – more of less – gracefully moved towards.

The story we are about to tell, however, takes a different route. It is set in a white, orange and brown two-story building and our protagonists are in Via della Musica, in the Tuscan countryside. This is no imaginary story, even though imagination has made it flourish, and just like every fairy tale, it carries with it a gem, its underlying moral.

The storyteller is none other than Andrea Bocelli, who – with children in mind – found the strength to go from dream to reality, indeed to make a dream come true, by giving them a story not to listen to, but to experience firsthand.

On Sunday, November 24, at the end of a beautiful and colorful ceremony, complete with the Major in his tricolor sash and celebrities in attendance, official speeches, refreshments, songs and many children ranging from just a few months old to six years of age (including some that, off the top of our heads, we would say are still in diapers), the Founder of ABF, who was born a few meters from this very place, addressed those present: “Dreaming is important. And when you dream passionately, influenced by a desire “to make a difference”, then dreams take shape. After my first concert, held not far from here, almost 30 years ago, my father said to me: “why don’t you do a concert to raise money to donate to the small school in La Sterza?”. If he were here with us today, he would even find a minister in attendance to celebrate with us, and a cutting-edge school in a place that was once mud and fallow meadow, which serves as an example, where our children (and the community they belong to) can develop their fullest potential. And, through music, they can also learn to relate, listen and share”.


The School, the Bocelli family and the ABF Project

The “Zerosei” center, named after the age of its little attendees who are aged between zero and six (sei), was created as an experimental center. It is a school named after Alessandro Bocelli, husband to Edi (who was also present for the ceremony we are about to recount) and father of ABF’s Founder, Andrea Bocelli, and Alberto Bocelli.

It was founded in 2015 thanks to the Bocelli family’s donation of land to the Municipality of Lajatico. Located in La Sterza, it meets the need to offer a quality solution to those families forced to work away from their hometown due to the depopulation of rural areas. Families who find themselves commuting on the Volterra – Pontedera link every day. It goes without saying that the educational center built in Andrea Bocelli’s hometown was set up around the clear influence of sound and musical languages.

Yet, the Andrea Bocelli Foundation – through its “Music Lab” project – has made the difference, today making the “Zerosei” a center of excellence with a brand-new grand piano, an array of educational instruments and with professionals who will create a permanent music workshop within the center.

Here ABF will provide for the inclusion of a specialized professional (a music atelierista) and a pedagogical coordinator, to provide continuity to a project that aims to promote musical languages, both as an educational tool for children and as a source of aggregation and culture for the community.

The project has been designed to be easily replicable and was conceived as a further contribution to the pedagogical model that ABF is building, in the desire to restore the deserved importance to so-called informal education. This is education that involves direct access to art and music and experience through workshops, to form the citizens of tomorrow, ones who are more aware, more conscious and more open to opportunities for expressing their talent.


Figures, Words, Smiles

As with all ABF’s educational projects, our efforts are strategically aligned with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations (otherwise known as the 2030 Agenda), especially goal no. 4: Quality education. More specifically, they are aligned with goal 4.7, which highlights the importance of providing learning tools that promote inclusion, thereby preparing children and young people to become global citizens.

In order to compensate for the technical terminology and figures just given, which are always somewhat intricate and complex, albeit necessary (it is said that all offices are a breeding ground for the virus of similar vocabulary)… As we were saying, to compensate, during the ceremony in La Sterza, amidst the hobbit-sized chairs and extremely colorful paintings and many relaxed smiles lining the walls, there was also a beaming Stefania Giannini, the former Minister of Education of the Italian Republic and the current Assistant Director-General for Education of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Stefania Giannini wanted to be here with us to usher in the debut of ABF’s project, not least because ABF has become a UNESCO partner, signing an agreement to bring music (and its choral education experience already trialled in Haiti) to the world, starting with Mail and continuing in the Middle East. This is a challenging path that will reach areas of extreme poverty, as well as places plagued by ongoing conflicts.

Ilaria Della Bidia, a special friend to ABF who conducted the ceremony with the same steadiness and skill that sets her apart as a singer, left the floor to her. “I am delighted that our paths have crossed – said Ms. Giannini – to ensure children receive that which unfortunately is not considered an acquired right in many countries (even though they are not too far from our own). Often, music education is even a luxury within schools. Instead, we are striving to ensure it for all, for no greater reason than that it is the most direct and universal way to bring out everyone’s talent. Not just that of budding artists but of everyone: the generations of tomorrow, who will be able to grown, cultivating their feelings, values and emotions. Today we are celebrating one part of that ambitious goal. And it is for that reason that I want to thank you all, because together, ABF, the United Nations, the Region, the school management and the public administration of Lajatico and its Mayor, friends and volunteers, we are taking it one step at a time in the direction of a better world”.


The Ceremony and the Party

The tricolor sash: to wear or not to wear? This is how the Mayor of Lajatico got ready for the event. “In the end, I chose to wear it – said Alessio Barbafieri – because although this is not the inauguration of a school, today we are celebrating something even more important: it is the completion of a project that from the very beginning aimed to give music a central role as a fundamental element for education. This is a complex and unprecedented project that has brought together the Ministry of Education (through the Capannoli School, which is linked to the La Sterza Elementary School) and the Municipality (which runs the nursery), and which thanks to the Andrea Bocelli Foundation has been completed, as part of an all-encompassing and shared educational journey dedicated to the art of sound”.

The Mayor, beaming, with his sash draped across his chest, and ABF’s Founder, Andrea Bocelli, and President Laura Biancalani, signed the documents ratifying the workshop right (and significantly) on the piano found on the ground floor of the Center, which was used for the occasion as a table, without incurring any damage. This is how this real-life fairy tale came to life, in Via della Musica, in the heart of the Valdera: amidst photos to commemorate the occasion, speeches, children playing and a smattering of music and thanks.

Indeed, there were many people to thank and everyone (who spoke) thanked everyone, such as our educationalist Sara Zingoni, for her precious consultancy, or the volunteer Sergio Giglioli, who demonstrates the concept of active citizenship, of exemplary citizenship, every day by  working on the external decoration of the school, almost as if it where the garden of his own home.

The many speeches also included one by the head teacher, Lidia Sansone, who highlighted her satisfaction in “this initiative that provides value for the whole community and for our children, who will get the opportunity to develop “multiple intelligences” as evidenced by neuroscience: able to increase their skills and potential from an early age, which would otherwise lie dormant”.

Luca Lischi, the Head of Cabinet of the Region of Tuscany  also spoke, recalling his previous visit to the Center for its inauguration in 2015, “when this beautiful union took shape, thanks to the Bocelli family who donated the land and thanks to the funding that the then Minister Stefania Giannini granted for this pilot school”.


“And I Will Take Care of You”

Today, Luca Lischi continued, we are renewing the celebration for that “care”, the concept of which was expressed in music shortly before, in this place, through the words of a beautiful song by Franco Battiato (entitled “La Cura”, Care), which an exceptional ABF volunteer, Giovanni Caccamo, performed live, together with his own inspired song, “Eterno”.

Debora Scotto, ABF’s atelierista (and professional pianist) was also asked to perform, animating the ceremony with her music. She will be with the children for 25 hours a month, together with our pedagogical coordinator Serafino Carli.

Yet our founder was also amiably forced to sing, unexpectedly, in spite of the irritating bronchitis that would give him reason to remain silent. Thus our long-standing friend and collaborator, Carlo Bernini, was called up from the audience and the notes of “A Vucchella” filled the Zerosei Center, with the voice of the most beloved tenor in the world set to the music of Francesco Paolo Tosti (the Italian Schubert who composed so many musical gems) and with the verses of none other than Gabriele D’Annunzio.

Lofty words ask for kisses, words that find their unexpected and cheerful confirmation in the wish of ABF’s President: an invitation to have children, which was directed at all the volunteers in Lajatico and the surrounding areas, in order to increase the future students of the Zerosei “Alessandro Bocelli” Center. She also invited them to spread the word and let people know about this innovative educational initiative, this precious opportunity that is available to the community, which gives the place an important advantage. To the extent that – as Laura Biancalani pointed out – “starting from January, the Center’s journey will be monitored by J-PAL assessors, the research center whose creators were recently awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics. J-PAL works at MIT in Boston and is a global network capable of revolutionizing the impact of social welfare policies around the world, thanks to the proven effectiveness and concreteness of the technique used”.


Dream and then Make a Difference

It is time to visit the rooms of the school, and the idea of having children in order to indirectly take advantage of such beauty arises in more than one person, we are sure, especially the younger attendees. It is the moment for goodbyes, for good wishes for the upcoming Christmas. It is the moment for refreshments for all the participants. And it is Andrea, the Founder of ABF (which, in the eight years since it was founded, has raised and invested 32 million euros in education), who brought this celebratory afternoon to a close, which truly seemed like a fairytale happy ending (yet we are here to say that it was real). Even if, it is worthy restating, that it was imagination that helped it flourish, as well as a love for “making a difference”.

Bocelli, with his mother Edi sitting a few meters away from him and his wife Veronica by his side, mentioned his father Sandro again, imagining him to be happy, looking down at us from above, knowing that “we have succeeded in doing something, with the help of everyone, because it is not always true that Italy is a country with infinite resources, yet hindered”. Andrea was visibly moved and to finish he returned to the importance of dreaming and strongly willing your dreams to take shape. He also confessed another, more beautiful and daring, dream: to bring Pope Francis to Lajatico. “If it doesn’t happen, my father will forgive me from up there, however I promise that I will do my utmost to make this dream come true. What is more, I have already started to do so… Because you should know that I have already whispered this invitation in the Pope’s ear”.


Giorgio De Martino