The gift of music keeps on giving

DAVID GAUVIN is a Times & Transcript columnist.

My two cents by David Gauvin -- Times & Transcript--Saturday, March 31, 2018

I never met José Antonio Abreu. But he’s changed the lives of my family, and of hundreds of other families in Metro Moncton.

When the founder of the Sistema music-education program died last Saturday at the age of 78, he left behind a legacy of young lives changed for the better that has spread far beyond his native Venezuela to 60 countries around the world.

In New Brunswick, where Sistema was introduced in 2009, the program currently serves 1,100 children, including my two boys. And what it has done for them is just amazing.

For years before our boys got into the program, we had heard about the great things Sistema did for young people on top of learning to play music. It taught them discipline. It gave them confidence. It helped them concentrate. Their performance at school improves. They volunteer to do chores around the house without being nagged.

Well, in our experience, almost all of that has been true (that last one might still be a work in progress ...).

The benefits of Sistema go way beyond just learning to play an instrument. The kids learn about the value of hard work and persistence. In practising and performing the complicated pieces of music and learning how an orchestra works, they learn about working together. They develop confidence in their abilities by learning their instruments and then performing in front of crowds of hundreds of people. My sons have both performed on the stage of the historic Capitol Theatre. Last summer, one of them played for a crowd of thousands during the Whoa Canada concert that also featured world-famous soprano Measha Brueggergosman. How cool is that?

And stagefright? Forget it - when this young orchestra walks out on stage, there’s nary a nerve in sight.

How many 10-year-olds walk around the house humming Beethoven and Tchaikovsky? And it rubs off: Thanks to the boys, my wife and I are also discovering wonderful music that otherwise is too often ignored in a world saturated with disposable pop culture.

You’ve heard of ‘hockey dads’? Well, I’ve become an ‘orchestra dad’- driving the kids to rehearsals, proudly clapping the loudest at their concerts, yelling at the conductor when my kid hits a bum note: “Come on, conductor, you call that a fortissimo? What are you, deaf?”

I’m only kidding about that last one, of course. There are no bum notes when these kids take the stage. Only a lot of very hard-working, talented young people who are discovering one of the immutable laws of the universe: playing music is just awesome.

Even if a child doesn’t pursue their chosen instrument after their stint in Sistema ends, they will still have developed an understanding and appreciation of music that will last them a lifetime. It’s a gift that truly keeps giving.

Ken MacLeod, president and CEO of the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra and Sistema NB, said this week that Abreu was driven by“the hope that anything was possible.”

He was right, of course. Thank you, Maestro Abreu.

DAVID GAUVIN is a Times & Transcript columnist.