Sistema Kingston

Sistema Kingston

by Hollie Pratt-Campbell

Legendary Kingston musician Joe Chithalen had a dream that anyone should be able to learn how to play music, regardless of their socioeconomic position; that’s why Joe’s Musical Instrument Lending Library (Joe’s M.I.L.L.) was created in his memory following his death in 1999, giving everyone a chance to borrow musical instruments for free, like books from a traditional library.

There can be little doubt that Joe would have been a fan of the Venezuelan program El Sistema, which focuses on positive social change by way of teaching music to underprivileged children. El Sistema has already inspired similar programs in Canadian cities like Ottawa and Toronto. This year, Joe’s M.I.L.L. will team up with the Limestone District School Board and Queen’s Conservatory of Music to launch Sistema Kingston, an intensive after school program for at-risk children.

“This really speaks to our mission of getting music out into the community,” says Joe’s M.I.L.L. president Terry Snider. “Sistema is known throughout the world for doing wonderful work with underprivileged children and when this opportunity came up we jumped at it.”

Sistema Kingston will begin in the fall of 2015, with 20 students in Grades 2-4 from First Avenue Public School participating. It will focus on choral training as well as string instruments, which will be supplied and maintained by the M.I.L.L. Children will learn to play in an ensemble, which Snider says adds depth to the many skills they already gain from learning an instrument.

“It develops listening skills far beyond what your average child has,” he explains. “It requires collaboration, it requires concentration, it involves emotional intelligence and it develops the skills that employers are looking for - not just knowledge, but being able to work as a team and being able to pick up the ball when it’s dropped and take ownership.”

The main goals are to foster music appreciation in students, and allow the young musicians to achieve their full potential.

“Sistema is really is about developing potential in children. It’s about social change, social transformation, the pursuit of musical excellence and ensemble playing. It just really, really fits into our mandate and our mission of what we wish to do.”

He notes that Sistema Kingston is a great example of the kinds of collaborative projects the M.I.L.L. will be pursuing more in their new home at the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning.

“The Tett is a really collaborative place for us. It’s going to give us a wonderful opportunity to work with other arts groups to get instruments into the hands of people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to play.”