Kent Nagano can trace part of his success back to one elementary school piano teacher.
"This particular professor had a special gift for teaching classical music," the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (OSM) music director said, "and because of that … a great majority of the children decided to develop their ambitions, to realize their dreams beyond the borders of this little village, and that stuck in my mind until today."
Now, the Maestro hopes to bring that same drive to some of Montreal's youngest residents.
La musique aux enfants, a two-year, intensive classical music program created by Nagano with help from the OSM, was launched Wednesday at École St-Rémi Annexe in Montreal North.
'The purpose of this school is to try to bring back that opportunity to realize one's potential at a very young age here in Montreal North.' - Kent Nagano, OSM music director
In collaboration with the school board, the Commission scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Île, the school's 161 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students will each receive a lesson a week on rhythm and choral singing.
Sixteen of them will also also receive three hours of piano and violin lessons a day.
"We were looking for children that had an open mind, were curious and had a desire to learn more about music," Nagano told CBC Montreal's Homerun.
"That's about the only requirement that we have."
Nagano hopes that by the end of the two-year program, which starts when the students are around four years old, he'll be able to show that intensive music learning can help children reach their full potential, just as his elementary school piano teacher helped him do.
To measure that success, the new music school has partnered with Université de Montréal researchers to look into the impact of early age music education on children's development.
From his own experience growing up in 1950s California, where free classical music classes were "considered a part of essential scholastic curriculum," Nagano knows the mental and social benefits children are deprived of when they don't have access to music education.
"In many schools, the arts, and music specifically, have simply disappeared. So now we have three generations of children who have had no contact with classical music at all and therefore have no contact with [those] kinds of skills," he said.
"The purpose of this school is to try to bring back that opportunity to realize one's potential at a very young age here in Montreal North."
And if the program just so happens to groom a Maestro, the program's website says, "so much the better."