The OrKidstra Program

The Leading Note Foundation was created in September 2007 by the owners of The Leading Note music store (Tina Fedeski & Gary McMillen) and former NACO cellist and music educator, Margaret Tobolowska. The charitable organization* administers OrKidstra, a music program for children aged 5 to 18 in under-served areas of Ottawa. Our goal is not to raise professional musicians (though all children will be left with a life-long appreciation of music) as much as to instil many life skills which come with learning music: confidence, teamwork, responsibility and inter-dependence, tolerance, patience and pride in achievement. OrKidstra is a program of social change inspired by Venezuela’s El Sistema program, which has supporters and proponents worldwide.

OrKidstra Year-End Concert at Dominion Chalmers United Church in June 2012

The main OrKidstra programs — KidPlayers (orchestra), KidSingers (choral) and KiddlyWinks (high-energy, fun Orff-based program for young children) — are held at the Bronson Centre and classes are offered at no cost to all participants from low income backgrounds. These programs include many children from an area of Ottawa which has a high population of new immigrants. By playing music together, the children learn to build their own community across divergent cultural backgrounds.

OrKidstra and The Leading Note Foundation were founded in 2007 with 30 children. Six years later, the program has expanded to include over 300 children and we now operate a second program for young children at York Street School. In our classrooms, there are as many as 42 languages spoken as our students have worldwide roots.

Soprano Jenna Glatt (bottom right) with the massed choir at the Peace Day Event in City Hall, Sep 2012. Olivia Chow and Paul Dewar (upper right) look on as Jeannie Hunter conducts Dr. James Wright (at keyboard) and the OrKidstra strings in “To Young Canadians”, composed by Dr. Wright specially for the Peace Day Event.

The Leading Note Foundation is a registered charity (BN 83246 7153 RR0001). About 65% of our annual budget is covered by financial donations from the community (from individuals or through directed foundation monies) with the remainder coming from grant applications and corporate sponsorships.

We are privileged to have generous support by granting organizations such as TELUS, Trillium, ArtsVest, the City of Ottawa, the Community Foundation of Ottawa, the Ontario Arts Council and RBC Foundation. Some of our sponsors include Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP, and local Ottawa businesses such as Trigon Insurance, Advance Printers and TD.

Donations of instruments are also important and most welcome.  The community of Ottawa has generously donated $140,000 worth of instruments since 2007! The instruments are refurbished as necessary and loaned to the children to take home for practice once they show they can care for them.

Who is involved? The three founders of the Foundation still drive the programs. Tina Fedeski is the Executive Director; Margaret Tobolowska, the Artistic Director; Gary McMillen, the Treasurer. In addition, our strong and committed volunteer Board of Directors draws on its varied and deep career experience to guide the organization. Professional teachers are hired under contract to teach the children and volunteer student mentors from the Education and Music programs at Ottawa University assist in the classrooms. A team of volunteers helps to organize afternoon sessions, and assists at the many outside engagements at which the children play. The Ottawa Food Bank provides nutritious afternoon snacks for the children to their benefit and enjoyment.

What do the children do? OrKidstra programs take place four days a week after school for two hours. The children are encouraged to decide for themselves how intensely they wish to study an instrument and small group classes are available for those showing most promise. A group approach is fundamental to the program’s philosophy.

i>OrKidstra is active in the Community. The opportunity to perform in public gives the children practice in playing before an audience and immeasurably improves their confidence.OrKidstra has attracted considerable media attention which has led to a growing number of public engagements: the group performed on Parliament Hill for the installation of the Governor General and more recently at the NAC’s FanFair. They were featured at the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Viennese Opera Balls and have performed annually at Ottawa’s Peace Day celebrations since 2011.

In the past few years, OrKidstra and its founders have been recognized repeatedly for their work and achievements. In 2011, Tina Fedeski was awarded Ottawa’s Peace Day Award for leadership in creating a peaceful society. The Foundation was nominated for the 2011 VOscars Award (a Volunteer Ottawa event) for best volunteer program in Ottawa. The 2012 Peace Day Grant was also awarded to the Leading Note Foundation. In November, 2012 the program received a leadership award by the Canadian Institute of Child Health. A Canadian documentary on El Sistema—Teaching the Life of Music—featured the OrKidstra program and followed the children to Toronto where they participated in celebrations surrounding the award of the 2009 Glenn Gould Prize to the founder of El Sistema.

An exchange program with the Iqaluit Fiddle Club was initiated in October 2012 through a videoconference event at the NAC. OrKidstra children visited Iqaluit in March 2013 and hosted children from Nunavut in April when they all performed on the NAC stage with the National Arts Centre Orchestra.

What lies ahead? OrKidstra programs are very popular and demand is growing in other under-served areas of Ottawa. In addition, a pilot project in partnership with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board has been established and the very popular KiddlyWinks program is now offered during in-school time to grades 1 and 2 in three inner city schools.

The Leading Note Foundation’s goals are to help children who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity, to build their potential through music. To do so, we will be looking to maintain and increase partnerships and sponsorships with private and public organizations while seeking much needed support from individual and corporate donors in the months and years to come.

* In 2016, the official name of the charitable organization was changed from The Leading Note Foundation to OrKidstra.

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