Keeping elementary students focused on one activity for an hour is a challenge, particularly when they’ve been in classes all morning, yet Sara Liptay succeeds.
At Hillsborough Elementary School, 21 students from grades one to three spend every lunch hour learning to play the violin.
Sistema-NB, a program of the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra, was inspired by the highly successful El Sistema initiative in Venezuela. The concept is to create social change through music. Sistema-inspired programs are in sixty countries; Sistema-NB is the largest such program in Canada and one of the largest in North America.
For the first month, the Hillsborough students use violins made from papier-mâché. Once they treat the instruments with care and respect, they start to use small violins. The instruments, as with the whole program, are provided for free. Any student can join but expectations are high.
The students take the one-hour class five days a week, giving up some of their lunch time and play time. Also, there is a demand for excellence.
“Being good enough is not good enough,” explains MacLeod. “We have high expectations and they rise to it.”
Sara Liptay was amazed by how well the Hillsborough students performed under pressure and says, “The Christmas concert was almost perfect.” By then, the children had only been playing their instruments for a couple months.
Liptay is a “teaching artist.” She has been performing with Symphony New Brunswick for ten years and the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra before that. Sistema hires professional musicians so they can teach and inspire students.
Principal Susan Wilmot says she is grateful to have the program at her school. She points to studies that show intensive music programs help students in other classes, including reading and math. Participants also develop greater self-confidence and learn invaluable skills, such as focus and teamwork.
Wilmot recalls a parent saying, “What a gift my child has been given.”
In the class, students repeat the same passages over and over until they get it right. They are learning to read music and also know some of the pieces by memory. It’s hard work but also fun, according to grade two student Hunter Kingston.
“I like playing the violin, I like playing in the concert.” Hunter continues. “I get to use the bow and pluck strings.”
Sarina Jones, a grade 3 student, enjoys learning to play an instrument. She also likes how “Mrs. Sara” spends so much time with them.
“They come in with smiles on their faces,” says Liptay, smiling herself, “and they leave with smiles on their faces.”
More than that, the children leave standing a bit straighter— not just because of Liptay’s emphasis on good posture, but because they feel good about the music they are making.
The Bennett and Albert County Health Care (BACH) Foundation supports Sistema’s Hillsborough program, Connecting Albert County and many other community initiatives that have a positive impact on health and wellness in rural Albert County. To learn more about the BACH Foundation, call 882-3100 or visit bachfoundation.com. To support BACH and the projects it supports, please use the donation form..
A donation to the Bennett and Albert County Health Care Foundation is an investment in the health of your community and future generations.
Janet Wallace is a freelance editor, writer and photographer based in rural Albert County. NB. She writes about farming, food and travel, and is also the coordinator of Connecting Albert County. www.JanetWallace.ca