Top conductor set to work with young New Brunswick musicians

Sistema students are prepped to play with musicians from Ottawa in Moncton on the weekend PHOTO: KEVIN NIMMOCK/TIMES & TRANSCRIPT


The key to working with children is to challenge them with high demands and complex ideas, says One of Canada’s most respected orchestral conductor, who will bring that strategy to Moncton this weekend.

“If you challenge young people, and really push them, they respond better than if you dumb it down,”said Alexander Shelley, conductor for the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa.“You can talk about really complex things and they really get it. There is no need to patronize kids.”

Shelley and his orchestra will arrive in Moncton on Friday, ready to work with 240 young musicians from the Sistema program. The professional musicians will work in small groups with Sistema performers and on Saturday at 7 p.m., all the musicians will come together for a free show at the Wesleyan Celebration Centre.

Sistema is a province-wide music program, wherein underprivileged kids learn to play instruments and work in an orchestral setting under the instruction of professional teaching artists.

“Our whole purpose is to engage kids who would otherwise be left out,” said Ken MacLeod, CEO of the program. “Talent is universally distributed, but opportunity isn’t.

“Kids who would never have enough money to play an instrument are performing at a really high level, because they have access to great teachers and tools.”

There are eight Sistema groups across the province, working with 850 kids for three hours after school, five days a week. This weekend, 240 young musicians will be split into three groups, featuring musicians from Tobique First Nation, Richibucto, Saint John and Moncton.

“This is a really fine example of exposing our kids to top talent, and in doing so inspiring them to achieve at a higher level,” MacLeod said.

Shelley, who was in Moncton last year to work with the young musicians, said Sistema is a “wonderful thing for young people.”

“I’m delighted we can do something to support it when we are in town,” he said, noting that he is looking forward to challenging the musicians by getting them to bring more emotion and feeling into the way they perform.

On stage, the Sistema musicians will perform alongside the National Arts Centre musicians, and the show will conclude with the NACO musicians going solo. Together, they will perform orchestral classics like“Russian Dance” by Tchaikovsky, and “Ode to Joy” and “Symphony No. 1.”by Beethoven.


Sistema students are gearing up for a free show this Saturday at the Wesleyan Celebration Centre.


“It’s lively music people will recognize,” MacLeod said. “It’s really going to be a special performance.”

Paris Fisher, a 13-year-old double bass player with the Sistema program, said she is “honoured” to get to play with professional musicians from the nation’s capital. The sentiment was shared by 10-year-old flutist Jada Nguyen, who said she is excited to “learn new techniques, new skills, and just really improve my sound.”

Nguyen said the music the orchestras will be playing poses a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.

“It’s like a test you studied hard for,” she said. “It’s the sort of challenging where you know what you are doing most of the time. There are always little mistakes.”

Nicola Bertin, an 11-year-old viola player, said he is excited to see a “full house at the Wesleyan.”

“It’s not my first show, but it will be really neat to see everyone there.”

While the kids are excited to perform, they said the program is about more than just music.

“Before my first concert, I hated going in front of people,” Nguyen said. “Now I like it.”

Fisher said that when she joined the program more than five years ago, she was very shy.

“Sistema taught me a lot of social skills,” she said.“You also make a lot of friends.”

“It’s lively music people will recognize.” (KEN MACLEOD)