Nevada Rushford could be principal violinist with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra one day.
She's only seven, but the Grade 2 Elwick Community School student has been taking lessons from professional musicians for more than a year. By the time she graduates from high school, the pint-sized violinist will be better trained than the majority of North American student musicians.
Nevada, and more than a score of her Elwick classmates, are part of a musical and social movement that began in Venezuela as a way to bring music to street children and help them realize the possibilities of life.
Sistema is a serious commitment. Children agree to take music lessons five days a week for three hours at a time. In Winnipeg, they're taught by two dedicated teachers and a rotation of WSO musicians.
There's no cost to the students or their families. The Seven Oaks School division and the WSO shoulder the expenses, including paying for the instruments. The WSO accepts donations of string, woodwind, brass and percussion instruments for the program.
"It's changing their lives, one note at a time," says WSO executive director Trudy Schroeder. "I think it's the most important thing the WSO has ever done."
Some of Elwick's students come from financially challenged families.
Schroeder, WSO principal violist Dan Scholz, teachers and the Elwick choir and orchestra performed at Winnipeg Harvest Monday afternoon. One violinist, biting her lip with concentration, wore a pink plastic headband. Another had on his ball cap. They were in snowpants and frayed jeans and they were making music.
Scholz works with the kids once a week. He conducts the WSO youth orchestra and believes every child, no matter where they live, deserves the chance to study music.
"I don't think any child should be denied the opportunity to participate in any activity, whether it's sports or music. This gives children who might not have had the chance to come to the concert hall a great chance."
There are four Sistema programs in Canada. It began in New Brunswick and Ottawa before moving to Winnipeg. Elwick was the first local school to be involved. The inner city's King Edward School also participates.
Tanya Derksen, the WSO's director of education and outreach, says the program is expensive.
The cost per student is $3,000 and there are 50 children involved. Seven Oaks supplies the teachers, space and busing; the WSO musicians teach at a discounted rate. Volunteers serve snacks to the kids. Much of the funding comes from private donors.
Teacher Erin Risbey says Sistema and its influence on kids are "amazing."
"It's such a big commitment by the kids," she says, "but they really want to be there. I think the parents see the value in the program, too."
"It's amazing the see them performing Bach and Haydn."
Trudy Schroeder is evangelical as she talks about the student orchestra.
"For us, in this time, we realize as an orchestra we have to make a difference in our community," she says, "The symphony is not just for people who can buy tickets. This is for everyone."
She says the average middle-class student would never have the chance to train with musicians of this calibre, nor would they dedicate so many hours to their practice.
"They say you need 10,000 hours of practice to become great at something," says Schroeder. "If they stay with it through Grade 12, they'll have that."
The students have already had the chance to listen to the symphony live. This spring, they'll do that one better when they perform live with the orchestra at the concert hall.
Monday morning, the choir and orchestra whipped through Beethoven's Ode To Joy, voices clear, bows flying, ponytails bobbing. They'll perform the same song with the WSO and likely get the same reaction. Thunderous applause and a few quiet tears.
Nevada may not become a professional musician, but she already knows how to use her talents to stir a crowd.