Empowering Youth through Music

Keep up-to-date on the happenings at YONA-Sistema at YONA-Sistema.com.
yona instrument gradThe Edmonton Symphony Orchestra has embarked upon an extraordinary joint partnership with the Edmonton Catholic School District (ECSD) and the Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB), working together to inspire a sense of community and empower Edmonton’s underserved youth through music education.
Youth Orchestra of Northern Alberta (YONA-Sistema) is a program for social change through music education which launched in September 2013. Through partnerships with local schools boards, Rotary clubs, and the Inner City Children’s Program, 80 under-served students living in Edmonton’s city centre and attending Saint Teresa of Calcutta Elementary School, Delton School, St. Alphonsus School, and Victoria School for the Arts currently participate in an intensive after-school orchestra program.
For up to three hours per day, five days per week, students receive group music instruction in a safe and caring environment led by qualified Teaching Artists at no monetary cost to their families. This free program provides a nutritious snack, academic support, free play time outside, community building, and expressive arts experiences, where students express themselves through a range of art forms.
yona instrument grad The conception of YONA-Sistema was inspired by the distinguished El Sistema program model developed over 40 years ago in some of the poorest regions of Venezuela. The program’s framework does not train students for musical excellence, but rather focuses on the promotion of positive social change through daily engagement in an activity that builds self-confidence and responsibility—learning to play an instrument in an ensemble setting. The program’s goals are simple: build stronger communities and provide the tools to create better futures for the children who participate.
All current YONA-Sistema students are welcome to stay with the program into the future, and more will be incorporated as they complete a period of participation within the YONA Explorers program, a less-intensive program which serves as an introduction to YONA. As participants continue to build on their training, the older students become peer mentors to younger and newer participants, helping to build a larger ensemble. In the 2016-2017 year, YONA-Sistema has added woodwind and brass instruments to its ranks, allowing for a full orchestral complement.
yona instrument gradThe generous seed contributions from the ECSD, EPSB, Rotary, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, glasswaters, the Edmonton Community Foundation, the La Bruyère Fund, and countless other partners and donors enabled YONA-Sistema to get off the ground. Community partnerships are instrumental to long-term program sustainability, along with funding support from foundations, government investment, and private and in-kind contributions.  In 2016, the La Bruyère Fund made a landmark $1 million donation to the program, a portion of which will be used to establish an endowment to help the YONA-Sistema program continue into the future.
El Sistema’s founding father José Antonio Abreu asserts that “music is an agent of social development because it transmits (our society’s) highest values - solidarity, harmony and mutual compassion.” For over 40 years, students and graduates from Sistema-based programs around the world have been impacted by this powerful philosophy and have experienced the immense power and joy of being part of something larger through musical collaboration, and now Edmonton's youth are a part of this as well.
Thank you to our partners and supporters!
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Frequently Asked Questions

The El Sistema model was first established by José Abreu in Venezuela over 40 years ago. His vision was that music be recognized as an agent of social development, in the highest sense, because it transmits some of our ideal values: unity, harmony, and mutual compassion. Engaging youth in musical education in a peer-mentored orchestra format has the ability to support the academic and social development of at-risk youth and unite an entire community, a fact supported by years of experience and data in multiple countries and cities. Sistema-based programs exist around the world, each adhering to Abreu’s basic philosophy for social change through music education, but each differing widely, localized to serve the needs of the community in which they operate.
Since its beginnings in Venezuela, the El Sistema model has been adapted around the world. The United States hosts over 50 El Sistema-inspired programs, including Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA), OrchKids in Baltimore, and the Harmony Program in New York City. Within Canada, there are at least 18 núcleos currently in existence. The núcleo that is geographically closest to Edmonton is the Calgary Multicultural Orchestra. Other prominent Canadian núcleos include the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra, Sistema Toronto, and Sistema Winnipeg.
Those students who will benefit most from the program will be selected to participate by members of a selection committee composed of YONA-Sistema staff, with input from school-based staff. Selection will be based on a number of factors, including financial need and identified opportunities for social and interpersonal development.
This program is unique to Edmonton in that it offers daily intensive after-school musical instruction at no cost to participants or their families. There are many other opportunities for students to pursue after-school programming or musical instruction, but not for free or not every day after school, and not combined. We look forward to joining forces with some of the other social and musical programs that exist in Edmonton in order to provide Edmonton’s children with the most opportunity possible.
We currently serve 80 students from multiple schools, who we've committed to serving until they graduate from high school. We are working to establish long-term sustainable funding and partnerships, and have plans to further expand the program (both in number of students, number of sites, and types of instruments played) in future years. Members of the ensemble will provide instructor and peer training as the participants explore and perform classical and cross-cultural musical forms before audiences of the ensemble’s peers, community, and city.
The program runs for three hours each day, immediately following school dismissal. Participants are bussed home after the program.

Teaching Artists have been carefully selected based on qualifications on multiple levels:
• Musicianship
• Teaching skill and experience (e.g. understanding of strings pedagogy, ability to engage interest, manage groups, redirect disruptive behaviour in positive directions, and encourage participatory learning)
• Personality (including patience, sense of humour, compassion)
• Experience or familiarity with social/human service work

Seed funding was provided by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, glasswaters, the Edmonton Community Foundation, the La Bruyère Fund, and private donations. YONA-Sistema’s partnership with Rotary has also been integral to the program’s success. Much of the cost related to this program is the actual physical space. We are grateful to the Edmonton Catholic School District for providing space and bussing for their students, and to the Edmonton Public School Board for providing bussing and instrument donations for the program.

in 2016, the La Bruyère Fund made a landmark $1 million donation to the program.  A portion of this donation will go towards operating costs, and a portion will be used to establish an endowment for the YONA-Sistema program.  In honour of this donation, the program's highest-level orchestra is called the La Bruyère Orchestra of YONA-Sistema.
YONA-Sistema is seeking further financial support from various entities, including government, private donors, foundations, corporate sponsors, and partner groups (for in-kind donations). Individual donors have provided major support for this program, both financially and through volunteering. In order to ensure ongoing stable support and funding, we will continue to pursue and maintain strong partnerships with community groups and to conduct outcome-based research on YONA-Sistema and its impact. We engage in regular communication with all funding sources and stakeholders, and take every opportunity possible to demonstrate the results of the program to them.
Many of the costs of the program occur during the first three years to lay the infrastructure for long-term sustainability. The cost per child goes down significantly once the groundwork has been laid, including the purchase of instruments. Ongoing expenses include space, purchasing music, nutritious food, and field trips for the students. Many of the program’s costs will be covered by in-kind donations. The cash investment for YONA-Sistema’s first year was about $120,000, provided mostly through grants, donations, and partner contributions.
The program is completely free of charge for participants and their families. One of the main tenets of this program is that it is inclusive and accessible to all.

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (ESO) is one of Canada’s major orchestras, with 56 full-time musicians and a performance season which runs from September through early June. The ESO’s adventurous programming reflects the diversity of the communities it serves and stimulates joy and inspiration in local, national, and international audiences. The ESO’s artistic home is the Francis Winspear Centre for Music at the heart of Alberta's capital city, and the orchestra has been serving Edmonton and northern Alberta for over 60 years.
Musical education and inspiring future generations is integral to the organization's mandate, and the ESO is devoted to demonstrating the wonder of music to children and youth. As of May 2012, the ESO created a new Educational Outreach Department to focus more on building community partnerships and expanding educational and outreach programs.
The Francis Winspear Centre for Music was initially established by the community, for the community, and YONA-Sistema is an example of a community-based initiative which will serve Edmontonians for years to come.

YONA-Sistema encourages excellence and accountability in participants through daily intensive instruction. As such, YONA-Sistema is offered for three hours after school, each school day. Daily program activities include singing, musicianship, music instruction, nutrition, academic time, and free play time. Less frequent program activities include choir, expressive arts time, fiddling / drumming workshops, and visits from ESO musician ambassadors.
For the first two months a student is in the program, program activities focus on building skills such as teamwork and basic musicianship, and on building students’ stamina for the longer ensemble rehearsals which are to follow. Paper instruments are used until each student has demonstrated their ability to respect and care for them, at which time a graduation ceremony is held and their real instruments are presented to them.
YONA-Sistema is intended as a tool for holistic social development, and is not focused on musical education alone. Participants receive academic support with dedicated homework time built into the schedule, along with health and wellness education through the nutrition program and rhythm/dance/movement components of the program. As YONA-Sistema students grow older, offerings such as leadership classes are being integrated into the program in order to support the holistic growth of our students.