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‘We’re really trying to build better people’

Sistema program to host winter concert Nov. 28

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Kelsey Hall, 10, and Tyla Stagg, 9, run through Lean on Me in the music room at Elwick School. The pair are two of 100 Elwick and King Edward School students in the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's Sistema music program.

PHOTO BY JARED STORY Enlarge Image

Kelsey Hall, 10, and Tyla Stagg, 9, run through Lean on Me in the music room at Elwick School. The pair are two of 100 Elwick and King Edward School students in the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's Sistema music program. Photo Store

A group of musical masters in the making will show off their skills during an upcoming winter concert.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO), along with Elwick School in the Maples (30 Maberley Rd.) and King Edward School in the North End (825 Selkirk Ave.), is changing lives and communities through music.

Sistema plays its winter concert on Nov. 28 at 6:30 p.m. at Elwick School. For many Sistema students, it will be a chance to showcase their musical skills after three years in the program. For newbies, it will be a display of their progress since joining the program this fall.

Launched in 2011, Sistema Winnipeg is a free, intensive, after-school music program based on the El Sistema model from Venezuela.

"The idea behind that is, it’s a social program but a social program through music," said Tanya Derksen, director of education and outreach at the WSO.  

"It’s an intensive program, so it runs five days a week for three hours each day, and all the kids participate every single day."

Between Elwick and King Edward, there are approximately 100 Winnipeg children in Sistema. Currently, students learn to play violin, viola, cello and double bass, with plans for woodwinds and brass programs by next fall. The instruments are provided by the WSO, which takes donations from the community.

The plan is for the program to grow along with the kids. This year, Sistema is open to students in Grades 1 to 5. Next year, it will be open to students in Grades 1 to 6, and so on.

Erin Risbey, a Sistema teacher at Elwick, said the continuing nature of the program, along with the three-hour daily time commitment, means kids are coming away from Sistema with a lot of life skills.

"Because it’s an intensive program, some of our students have a really good sense of belonging and a better sense of community," Risbey said. "Obviously, musically they’re leaps and bounds ahead because they have such an intense program, but also socially. We’re really trying to build better people, people that can solve their problems on their own."

Apparently, it’s working. Kelsey Hall, a Grade 5 student at Elwick and a budding cellist, said Sistema helps her stay disciplined.

"(It helps with) my self-control. It also helps me with my listening skills," said Hall, 10, who has been in Sistema for two years.

There’s also the incentive of getting to work with professional musicians, like Sistema conductor Dan Scholz, principal viola at the WSO. In fact, in September, the program’s participants played at the Centennial Concert Hall during the WSO’s season kick-off concert.

A standing ovation from strangers is awesome, but Hall said she already gets high praise from her family.

"Whenever my grandma goes to one of my concerts, she always tears up," Hall said.

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