I hoped for this first year to "hook" the kids in, period. The students have far surpassed that. I feel that this program has not only developed a sense of community and a sense of ownership around their learning, but has really inspired them to go above and beyond in terms of what it takes to be successful.
—Kristjanna Oleson, Sistema teacher
Walking into the music room at Elwick School seven months after my last visit to Sistema, I was astonished to find the room full of young students excited and fully engaged in making music. With violins, violas and cellos in hand, they were taking full advantage of this wonderful opportunity given to them.
Sistema Winnipeg opened its doors in October, 2011. Now nearing the end of its first year, it's clear the program is thriving. The program is held at at Elwick School in the Seven Oaks School Division with support from the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
It's based on El Sistema, that wildly successful music program that got its start in the slums of Venezuela. The original program works because it helps get disadvantaged youths off the street and offers them a chance to succeed.
Sistema Winnipeg is a rigorous after-school music program. Students from grades one to three are required to come every day for three hours.
Kristjanna Oleson is their teacher and she reminds us that Sistema is more a philosophy than a method. It is meant to be a safe and welcoming place where students develop social and life skills as well as music.
Back in the fall, the students learned the basics of music through singing and with rhythm sticks. They also played on cardboard cutouts of violins, violas and cellos.
In January the real instruments arrived and in February teachers from the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra were brought in to help teach. Now, just a few short months later, the children are performing in front of an audience and are just loving it.
"The students are so enthusiastic it has been really contagious and really heartwarming for me," says Oleson.
"As soon as we received the instruments, the students couldn't put them down."
Cellist Desiree Abbey is one of the participating teachers from the WSO. "The biggest pleasure is watching the children in their successes," she exclaimed, "whether it's a social skills success -- doing something kind for another, or performing in a concert and succeeding in their instrument. "
So far, they've learned about a dozen pieces, some in three-part harmony. Some of the students even join up with others in their free time to practice playing in harmony.
"I feel like this program has gone beyond what my expectations or hopes were," admits Oleson.
"I hoped for this first year to "hook" the kids in, period. The students have far surpassed that. I feel that this program has not only developed a sense of community and a sense of ownership around their learning, but has really inspired them to go above and beyond in terms of what it takes to be successful.
"And the lovely amazing by-product of it all is that they're all becoming very, very, very fine musicians in a very short amount of time."
On May 22 the Sistema students will join forces with other young musicians from the Seven Oaks School Division for a concert at Jubilee Place. Their Spring Finale will take place June 18.