The kids huddled together on stage, a supposedly “warm” May morning, except, of course, there was an icy wind blowing directly at them from across Lake Ontario. A keen observer might have asked why some of their clothes appeared oversized. A clue – the volunteers and teachers at the back of the stage had all stripped down to their t-shirts in order to keep their choristers warm!
Once they started singing, you’d never know there was an issue. Their voices warmed up the air and cut through the chatter from the audience (all cold as well!). The performance was part of Harbourfront Centre Junior, an international children’s festival held at Queens Quay West over the Victoria Day weekend. The event featured dress-up, storytelling, and live concerts for young children aged four to 14.
These are no ordinary kids —or perhaps in many ways, they are ordinary kids—and that is what makes them so special. Too many “ordinary” kids living in Toronto today don’t have the same access to music as their privileged counterparts. In the city’s wealthier neighbourhoods, children who express interest in playing an instrument are given private lessons without a second thought. Same with singing: You get your child into one of the several high calibre children’s choirs in Toronto, which also comes at a price. Even if you can afford the annual fee, there’s addition fundraising costs, and parent volunteer commitment.
What does this all mean for kid growing up in a single parent family at Jane and Finch? You can imagine—little or no chance of music instruction or experience. That is, until a program like the Regent Park School of Music turned up over a decade ago in a church basement. Its mission? Give as many kids as possible a music education, by removing the financial obstacle.
Since that first day, this not-for profit success story has grown, thanks to the generous donations of mostly private funders (individuals and corporations), and over 80 incredibly dedicated (and talented) musicians/instructors and volunteers.
These days, classes happen at the central hub in Daniels Spectrum in Regent Park and in Jane and Finch, as well as other high-priority neighbourhoods in Toronto. Students have access to music teachers and an array of musical options and instruments. They study everything from classical piano and violin to turntablism and electronic music, and perform all over the city.
The teachers are experienced, working musicians, all with a music career of their own and each one wanting to give back. Sunday was no exception. All the songs performed had been written by Toronto musicians, working directly with the kids to get ideas for content. At the end of the show, Canadian singer Jully Black (Canada’s own Queen of R&B) stepped on stage to sing with the kids — hive fiving a row of songsters before she faced the audience, obviously not a stranger to the group. As a finale, singer/song writer, record producer and arranger, Royal Wood, led combine choirs in what has become their theme song, “Unbelievable Universe.”
Cold day in May? By the time the choir was into their first song, we were all warmed up – in heart – at least!
For more information on the RPSM watch the video.