A chance for harmony amid the Mostar ruins

Among the ruins of east Mostar, where buildings lie shattered and children pick their way among the rubble, music offers a path to some kind of harmony among the people of the city. In a small (but intact) room amid the bombed-out ruins of a hotel, a group of children sing, their voices rising to a crescendo of cheers and laughter: a music lesson for pupils of the special school.

Nigel Osborne, professor of music, composer and critic (for the Independent) has poured his energies into building a music centre in Mostar, a means not only to restore the civilisation of the city but also to advance into the next century. At present the centre is a facade, the interior gutted by the relentless fire from the west bank of the Neretva river, where Bosnian Croat militiamen made war on the people of the east, most of them Muslims. Rebuilding will soon begin. Meanwhile, Mr Osborne, in conjunction with the charity WarChild, one of four charities supported by the Independnent's Christmas appeal, is addressing the project's human needs.

The centre will have a tripartite mission: education, music therapy and a state-of-the-art recording studio. This last facility is hoped to attract bands and orchestras from all over the region, bringing an economic boost to east Mostar and, perhaps, persuading those in the west that there is at least one good reason to repair relations with former neighbours.

The educational aspect is already working, based on the new Bosnian curriculum, which requires an hour of music study a week. Mr Osborne and WarChild have run refresher courses for music teachers at primary schools in Mostar and are distributing to schools the instruments needed in the curriculum. There are plans afoot for Bosnian professors to visit British universities and vice-versa. Music teaching locally will focus on children of primary age and a few of the very talented.

Last and perhaps most important is the planned music therapy department. In Mr Osborne's vision it will combine a clinical practice with a research and training department. Music therapy is a newish practice but gaining ground all the time among the medical profession; Bosnia has all too many potential patients."Most of the broken heads here have been sewn up and rehabilitation will be the priority," he said. He hopes that potential therapists will want to study in Mostar.

Musicians are raising funds for the centre. Luciano Pavarotti, who has already given WarChild $300,000 (pounds 196,000), is to present another cheque for $150,000 next week, from sales of a CD, ''Pavarotti andFriends'', recorded at a concert in Modena . The centre also will benefit from sales of "Miss Sarajevo", a single by Pavarotti, Bono and Brian Eno.

While the Help Bosnia CD, recorded in 24 hours last summer, was primarily aimed at raising money for medical and food aid, some profits from the recording will go to the Mostar venture. Sales and profits of the disc, which featured members of Blur and Oasis, Paul McCartney and Paul Weller, have far outstripped expectations.

Perhaps music might seem a frivolous way to help a country of refugees, of wounded, hungry and bereaved - yet Bosnia needs food for the soul, too. WarChild ran a bakery in east Mostar, providing more than a million loaves of bread to its inhabitants; WarChild still delivers food aid. But now, the agency argues, there is a need to expand beyond the material. "Here what's needed is a cultural regeneration," said Jonathan House, the WarChild representative in Mostar. The country's urban educated middle- class has been ravaged by the war (and its rural population uprooted in huge numbers). The cities need to provide the life and opportunities to prevent a second exodus and encourage a reversal of the brain drain.

The people of Mostar still need the basics for survival, but they also need a broader vision for the future, and they do need your money to realise that vision. Once the centre is operating - particularly in the way that Mr Osborne hopes - there will be added incentives to cross the line and play together with former enemies. Only through mutual dependence will Bosnia survive.

Dijana, 12, and Edina, 15, are pupils at the school, standing around giggling after the lesson with Mr Osborne. "It's great," Dijana said, "We like learning songs." It is a kind of therapy, a dose of normality for a people brutalised by war. But perhaps most important, the music centre will not be a humanitarian hand-out but a project that can involve all Bosnians.