Kawartha Youth Orchestra launches free after-school program for Peterborough children facing barriers to music education

Subsidized by Ontario Trillium Grow Grant, 'Upbeat! Downtown' for 8 to 9 year olds runs at All Saints' Anglican Church from September to June

Children participating in a four-week pilot of the Kawartha Youth Orchestra's Upbeat! Downtown after-school music program in 2019. The free program, designed for children living in Peterborough who are interested in music but face barriers to accessing music education, will run from September to June with COVID-19 safety protocols in place. (Photo courtesy of Kawartha Youth Orchestra)
Children participating in a four-week pilot of the Kawartha Youth Orchestra's Upbeat! Downtown after-school music program in 2019. The free program, designed for children living in Peterborough who are interested in music but face barriers to accessing music education, will run from September to June with COVID-19 safety protocols in place. (Photo courtesy of Kawartha Youth Orchestra)

As part of the Kawartha Youth Orchestra’s commitment to removing barriers to music education for children, the non-profit organization is launching a free after-school music program in September for children living in Peterborough who would otherwise not have access to music education.

The program, called ‘Upbeat! Downtown’, is funded by an Ontario Trillium Grow Grant and will run three times per week inside of All Saints’ Anglican Church Parish Hall at 235 Rubidge Street in downtown Peterborough.

This year, Upbeat will be taking 30 students aged eight and nine years old, along with siblings close in age. If everything goes smoothly, the program will expand next fall to include 60 students between the ages of six and 18.

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Upbeat will run after school every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, from 3:45 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., beginning on September 13 and running until June.

Alexander Cannon, Kawartha Youth Orchestra’s artistic director and Upbeat’s lead teaching artist, says the program aims to recruit children from schools nearby to All Saints. If the child goes to school nearby, they can participate in a volunteer walking program as safe after-school transportation to All Saints.

“For folks who are close and qualify for the program, we safely get your child from their school to our program, and then the family is responsible for picking up their child at the end of the day,” Cannon tells kawarthaNOW.

Alexander Cannon is Kawartha Youth Orchestra's new artistic director and Upbeat's lead teaching artist. Cannon is a music educator, orchestral conductor, and trumpet player. Cannon grew up with two trained musicians as his parents, and is passionate about giving children the kind of access to music education he had. (Photo courtesy of Kawartha Youth Orchestra)
Alexander Cannon is Kawartha Youth Orchestra’s new artistic director and Upbeat’s lead teaching artist. Cannon is a music educator, orchestral conductor, and trumpet player. Cannon grew up with two trained musicians as his parents, and is passionate about giving children the kind of access to music education he had. (Photo courtesy of Kawartha Youth Orchestra)

The program is fully subsidized, so there are no fees. Along with safe transportation from school to Upbeat, the program includes an instrument loan, supplies, and a daily health snack. Children do not need any prior musical experience to participate.

To fill the program’s 30 spots, school teachers, principals, and administrators can recommend children for the program who they feel would benefit the most. In addition, parents can register their children by filling out and submitting an application form at kawarthayouthorchestra.org/join-upbeat-downtown/.

Cannon says the spots are filling up very fast, and there will likely be a waitlist for the program. Nevertheless, he encourages parents to register their children and join the waitlist since some families might move away and some children may leave the program during the year.

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According to Cannon, Upbeat will be a fun, ensemble-based program to expose participating children to music and foster their curiosity. The children enrolled will do some learning on the xylophone and will also learn to play the violin.

“It’s about creating whole people,” Cannon remarks.

When children arrive at Upbeat every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, they will be greeted with a snack. Then they will spend 10 to 15 minutes of “centring time” gathered in a circle, where they will talk about their days, prompted with questions like, “What is one exciting thing that happened during your day today?”

VIDEO: Upbeat! Downtown Peterborough (2019 pilot)

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, students will then spend time learning the beginning basics of music theory. Then they will have a session on their violin until the end of the program at 5:30 p.m.

On Wednesdays, Cannon says they mix things up a bit for students to keep the program exciting and interactive. Instead of music theory, students will partake in a music listening session. Then a special guest will demonstrate an intrument or perform for the kids.

“I’m going to try to find the most unusual instruments from different places,” Cannon says. “The ultimate goal of all this is exposure to foster curiosity.”

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Although the Ontario Trillium Grow Grant is supporting the program for its first few years, Kawartha Youth Orchestra still needs community support.

“One of our big mandates is going to be fundraising so we can make it beyond the three years of the grant,” Cannon explains.

Donations are not the only way you can support the Upbeat program. According to Cannon, you can also volunteer to help with the snack program, transportation, and checking kids in and out at the beginning and end of each day. Volunteers are heavily vetted and require background and police checks.

The Kawartha Youth Orchestra's rehearsal space at All Saints' Anglican Church Parish Hall, where the Upbeat! Downtown after-school music program will take place three times a week between September and June, has ample space to support physical distancing requirements during the pandemic. All participants will also be required to wear masks, only removing them when playing a wind instrument. (Photo courtesy of Kawartha Youth Orchestra)
The Kawartha Youth Orchestra’s rehearsal space at All Saints’ Anglican Church Parish Hall, where the Upbeat! Downtown after-school music program will take place three times a week between September and June, has ample space to support physical distancing requirements during the pandemic. All participants will also be required to wear masks, only removing them when playing a wind instrument. (Photo courtesy of Kawartha Youth Orchestra)

“The more we build up our volunteer base now, the better this is going to run a year from September,” Cannon notes. “After this initial year of getting our foothold, we do expect the program to grow drastically. Going from 30 to 60 is going to be a big leap for next year.”

While Upbeat is a new and exciting addition to Kawartha Youth Orchestra’s programming, they are also excited to continue their existing orchestra programs.

Kawartha Youth Orchestra ensembles, which are partially subsidized but require a tuition fee, exist on three levels: junior, intermediate, and senior. Each level requires a different degree of playing experience.

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Cannon is looking forward to welcoming students back to the ensemble program in person this fall. He says although the Kawartha Youth Orchestra did a fantastic job of keeping their ensembles going virtually throughout the pandemic, they are looking forward to resuming in-person activities in September.

As long as pandemic conditions don’t take a dramatic turn for the worse, the orchestra has received the go-ahead from Peterborough Public Health to return in-person rehearsals with COVID restrictions and protocols in place.

These include a requirement to wear masks (except for those who must remove them when playing a wind instrument) and remaining under 50 per cent capacity of their rehearsal space at All Saints’ Anglican Church Parish Hall.

Kawartha Youth Orchestra is a non-profit organization committed to offering youth in the Kawarthas region an opportunity to learn symphonic music and perform. Along with the  Upbeat! Downtown program the organization has junior, intermediate, and senior ensembles, each of which requires a different degree of playing experience. The orchestra recently received the go-ahead from Peterborough Public Health to resume in-person rehearsals, although with pandemic restrictions in place.  (Photo courtesy of Kawartha Youth Orchestra)
Kawartha Youth Orchestra is a non-profit organization committed to offering youth in the Kawarthas region an opportunity to learn symphonic music and perform. Along with the Upbeat! Downtown program the organization has junior, intermediate, and senior ensembles, each of which requires a different degree of playing experience. The orchestra recently received the go-ahead from Peterborough Public Health to resume in-person rehearsals, although with pandemic restrictions in place. (Photo courtesy of Kawartha Youth Orchestra)

Fortunately, All Saints’ Anglican Church Parish Hall is large enough to accommodate physical distancing.

Cannon says the pandemic has shown how vital the arts and community are, especially the social benefits that come from performing music in a group.

“The sense of community and communication that one gets from a music ensemble setting has clearly been missed,” he remarks. “People are looking forward to getting back to it.”

Although limited spots are available for the Upbeat! Downtown program, the Kawartha Youth Orchestra encourages those who are interested to apply and be placed on a waitlist in case there are any openings during the year. (Graphic courtesy of Kawartha Youth Orchestra)
Although limited spots are available for the Upbeat! Downtown program, the Kawartha Youth Orchestra encourages those who are interested to apply and be placed on a waitlist in case there are any openings during the year. (Graphic courtesy of Kawartha Youth Orchestra)

“I hope the pandemic has made people aware that it’s part of their health care and humanity to be part of something like this,” Cannon says.

“In an artistic setting, there is this sense of humanity. There’s something that feeds us in a way that nothing else can.”

Cannon notes that although their organization is called the Kawartha Youth Orchestra, it’s not just about orchestral music.

For example, they plan to spend two months of their second term working on chamber music and composition with their senior orchestra this year.

Kawartha Youth Orchestra programs require financial support to fund their rent, staff, sheet music, and instrument supply costs. Instrument donations and word-of-mouth support are non-monetary ways you can support the non-profit.

Those interested in joining one of the Kawartha Youth Orchestra ensembles can visit the Kawartha Youth Orchestra website at kawarthayouthorchestra.org, where you can also volunteer or donate to support the Upbeat program of the ensemble programs.