Founded in 2011 by businessman and community activist Robert Eisenberg, Sistema Toronto’s core objective is to provide musical, social and intellectual opportunities that children in vulnerable communities can seldom access, with the end goal of transformative social change.
Our program is modelled after the Venezuela-based El Sistema movement, founded in 1975 by the late Dr. José Antonio Abreu. The creation of Sistema Toronto was directly inspired by Dr. Abreu’s visit to Toronto to accept the Glenn Gould Prize and the performance by the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra at the Rogers Centre marking the occasion. The success of El Sistema has inspired hundreds of similar, independent programs around the world.
Sistema Toronto opened its first centre at Parkdale Junior and Senior Public School in September of 2011, followed by the opening of our second centre at Yorkwoods Public School in Jane/Finch in September 2013, and our third centre at St. Martin des Porres Catholic School in East Scarborough in September 2015.
Sistema Toronto’s program has grown from serving 57 children annually in one neighbourhood to 300 children across three of Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods. Our program builds stronger communities by transforming lives of children from marginalized neighbourhoods, enabling them to overcome poverty, grow and thrive as engaged citizens and future leaders of their communities.
The program is offered at no charge – all that is required is enthusiasm and the child’s agreement to play in a Sistema orchestra. Each child is given an instrument as soon as he or she can hold it. Lessons are in groups, and instruction is offered five days a week for a total of 10 hours. By playing in this intensive environment, our children quickly learn the importance of studying and playing music together as a team. Peer support and mentorship are fundamental to the Sistema spirit, and we encourage our older students to take leadership roles in teaching the beginner students.
Sistema Toronto has also developed a robust nutrition program, providing each student with a free healthy snack each day to help fight food insecurity. One in five of households in Toronto experience food insecurity, and kids that come from food insecure households are more likely to experience poor mental and physical health, greater risk of chronic disease, and other long-term adverse health impacts. It also negatively impacts their academic and social performance. We believe that sharing a snack together is one of the best ways to build community and break down communication barriers between children and adults.
Sistema Toronto is first and foremost a social development program, using ensemble-based music education to transform the lives of children. Students learn strings (violin, viola, cello, or double bass), percussion, choir and Music & Movement while developing important life skills like problem solving, empathy, and self-advocacy.
“Teach children the beauty of music and music will teach them the beauty of life.”
- Dr. José Antonio Abreu