The OrKidstra program, founded in 2007 by Tina Fedeski, Margaret Tobolowska and Gary McMillen, has been a labour of love from the very beginning – full of passion, hard work, and a little synchronicity.
In January of 2007, Tina and Gary watched, Tocar y Luchar, a documentary about the Venezuelan youth orchestra system known as El Sistema, and were captivated by the remarkable transformations it documented. Briefly, El Sistema is a network of hundreds of orchestras formed within most of Venezuela’s towns and villages. What began as a modest program designed to expose rural children to the wonders of music has become one of the most important and beautiful social phenomena in modern history. Now, almost half a million children – 90% of them from poor socio-economic backgrounds – attend El Sistema music schools around the country.
Tina and Gary knew immediately that they had to bring some of that inspiration and passion for music to the youth of Ottawa.
Soon afterward, Tina had the opportunity to stay with her sister in Caracas, who had just moved to Venezuela with her Canadian diplomat husband. Tina visited the home of El Sistema and met with several of the teachers. They were extremely welcoming, and Tina ended up giving flute lessons to several of the students.
Later the same year, Gustavo Dudamel – star pupil of El Sistema, conductor of its flagship Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, and now Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra – made his conducting debut with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, setting the NACO on fire.
And in February 2008, Dr. José Antonio Abreu, founder of El Sistema, was awarded the Glenn Gould Prize for his untiring efforts to promote music as a tool for human development. All of this publicity has helped to bring the importance of El Sistema to the attention of the world.
El Sistema’s principles are simple. Children as young as two are given an instrument as soon as they can hold it. Tuition, outings, music and, where necessary, social support are all furnished free of charge in return for the child’s agreement to play in one of the sistema’s ensembles. Lessons are in groups. Children who have mastered a scale or two are delegated to teach younger children. Peer support is fundamental. And orchestral playing is part of the program from the beginning. Six days a week, four hours a day, the children play music together in one of 90 music schools, or núcleos, around the country.
For more information on this phenomenon, please visit the El Sistema web site. And for those of you who would like to find out even more, The Leading Note music store is proud to be the Canadian distributor for the Tocar y Luchar DVD. All proceeds from the DVD sales will be donated to the Orkidstra programs.