The Leading Note Foundation was inspired by a phenomenal youth music program in Venezuela that has taken the world by storm, called El Sistema. This program has changed and saved the lives of countless children and is now recognized in the world as a prime model for music programs starting up in Los Angeles, New York City and Glasgow. The main premise is that, if you offer a child the instrument and the education to enrich their life spiritually, they will find the means to feed and clothe themselves - but, most importantly, they will become active contributors to society.
The Leading Note Foundation, made up of professional and freelance musicians in the Ottawa area, felt inspired to bring music to all children in Ottawa, regardless of their socio/economic background, to make music together in a spirited and positive environment.I've mentioned the Orkidstra once or twice before in this blog, have donated my old viola to it and have friends actively involved in the organisation, one of whom recommended I should come along to the concert today.
The children involved in the performance, none of whom have had to pay for their music lessons, were too numerous to count, but I'd guess there were around 150 of them, aged between about 6 and 16 years old; most appeared to be recently arrived immigrants––the gathering at Dominion Chalmers United church (the coolest available place the organisers could find during our current heatwave) was multiracial, reflecting the intake at the schools these young musicians attend. Towards the end a lady in the audience was thanked for helping to train a few of them to speak in public, using the microphone, since individual children had been introducing each item on the programme in a competent manner.
A lot more than music is being taught in the rehearsals of the OrKidstra and its satellite programs. There are very definite rules and rewards regarding punctuality and commitment, consideration and teamwork.
The first subgroup of the Orkidstra to be heard this afternoon was the KidPlayers wind ensemble, who came "marching in" blowing their instruments in a disciplined manner to the strains of "O when the Saints ..." and joining the rest of the orchestra on stage. The Artistic Director and co-founder of this whole enterprise (Margaret Tobolowska) explained to the audience: "That's how the Canadian Brass start their concerts!" ––so why not these children? There followed a rendering of the national anthem by the combined choirs and instrumentalists and a jokey, rhythmic number that went "We are the OrKidstra..." each section brandishing its instruments as its moment came.
The first part of the concert featured the very youngest musicians, the KiddlyWinks from the earliest grades of York Street school (in the immigrant neighbourhood between our house and Rideau Street) who came to the front to sing in French and English and to play the recorders handed out to them. They had learned to stand still and keep together and sing in tune which, with that age group, is a considerable feat on the teachers' part. When they sang, they fitted movements to the words, that too was slickly done. A slightly older group, the KidSingers, performed next, a jazzy number called "Splish Splash" unobtrusively accompanied by five OrKidstra players, a string quintet. Later on it was announced that these five young people had just been awarded scholarships to a summer music academy. When they're that keen, they advance rapidly!
Then we heard the Beginner Violins of York Street, introduced by a 9 year old. They're being taught by the Suzuki method, memorising rather than learning to sight-read the music, and bending their knees to capture the rhythm as they play together in a very nice, confident tone, no squeaks! "It all starts here," said Ms. Tobolowska. It does indeed. Two of the children in unison played a duet with their teacher on the other part.
The wind players had another go at playing a march and then came the seriously impressive part of the concert, a performance of three items by romantic composers: Dvorak, Beethoven and Mahler! (in arrangement, but even so). The KidPlayers and Senior KidPlayers played a movement from the New World Symphony, making an exciting sound, and an abridged version of the Egmont Overture, ditto, the little ones listening and watching with interest, and then all the children young and less young stood up together, including a double bass player, to give us the third movement of Mahler's First Symphony. This is the one where Mahler incorporates the singing of Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques, dormez-vous? transformed into the minor. Our announcer said that the minor key affected the little children so much when they were learning this, that some of them had cried. They performed it marvellously.
Towards the end of the concert, which went on for rather longer than its allotted time, the children, all wearing their coloured, OrKidstra / KidSingers T-shirts, were encouraged to give well-rehearsed cheers of thanks to the supporters of their music. The loudest and most sincere cheers were for their teachers.
Once again tutti, they finished with Beethoven's Ode to Joy. What they lack in perfection they make up for in enthusiasm, and they're getting better at it all the time.