‘It just opens the world to them:’ Youth arts program seeing success in inaugural year

Students of the Firebird North Sistema Music Project learn the basics of playing with ‘instruments’ they made. (Kathleen Clarke/Submitted)

“We’re trying to build a community of kids who feel connected to one another in a safe…space.”

The Firebird North Sistema Music Project is serving 20 children in Prince Albert who may not otherwise be able to unleash their artistic talent.

The program was launched in early November by Kathleen Clarke. It’s been successful so far with the students at King George Community School, and she only expects the project will grow.

“It just opens the world to them. There’s so many children with so many gifts in this group. There are some children with absolutely beautiful, heavenly voices. They’re really bright, they learn so quickly,” said Clarke.

She said there’s an even mix of students between grades two to five. They come straight from their school classes to the program from Tuesday to Friday, but Clarke will be expanding to all school days when they start up again in late January.

After a mid-afternoon snack, the students learn about a variety of arts forms and receive inspiring messages from guest presentations. So far, guests have included bagpipes player Dave Monette, Karen Langois and Cst. Lisa Simonson with the Prince Albert police.

Tammy McHenry-Vick also paid a visit: “She came and shared a book and video about Chris Hadfield when he was singing in space and playing his guitar in space. The book was about how he was fascinated about space as a little boy and followed his dreams, and so she wanted to share that ‘follow your dream’ message.”

They learn how to play the violin, viola, cello and bass three days a week, an hour each day. They also do dance, choir and yoga twice a week.

“We’re trying to build a community of kids who feel connected to one another in a safe sort of space and that community building is done through arts programming. It’s very skilled-based and very intensive,” said Clarke.

“Here’s an opportunity for you to really dig into something that you might have a knack for or a love for. Even if it’s not going to be a lifelong pursuit, the arts are so good for…cognitive development besides the expression.”

Clarke decided to ease the kids into playing orchestral instruments by making them with papier-mâché. Not only was it a fun craft, it also taught them the fundamentals of playing.

“The children learned all the parts of the instrument and they learn rest position and playing position and they got to practice the technique…how the instrument needs to be held, how your left arm should look, how your right arm grips the bow, what path the bow should take across the strings of the instrument,” she explained.

“It is that bridge to recognizing how delicate the instrument is. It gives them a chance to get a feel of it without having to worry about whether that real instrument gets bumped into a door or something.”

Clarke said her goal is to make arts accessible to children in underserved communities.

They’re able to attend for free thanks to the help of the Northern Lights Canadian Development Corporation, Community Initiatives Fund, Saskatchewan Orchestral Association, SaskCulture, the Cosmopolitan Club, Optimist Club, Canadian Federation of University Women in Prince Albert and the St. Alban’s Church. They’ve also received individual donations.

“This is what fills my cup, is listening to them sing, hearing their really insightful understandings of what they’re learning, watching them grow and develop, watching them click and connect with each other and support one another. It’s such a reward for me.”