Leading the Way with Music

LEADING THE WAY: Bringing The Joy of Music to All Children

Story and photo by Iris Winston

Music changes lives. Tina Fedeski is sure of it.
“Music has played a significant role in my life and in my husband’s life,” says Tina, the executive director of Ottawa’s Leading Note Foundation and co-owner of The Leading Note music shop with her husband, Gary McMillen. “For me, being part of the BedfordshireYouth Orchestra was a life-transforming experience. I found my voice through the orchestra. I couldn’t necessarily say what I was feeling, but I could play it out.”
The importance of music in Tina’s life — she was a flautist with a Spanish orchestra before accepting a scholarship at the Banff Centre in Alberta — was a major step along the way to the development of the Leading Note Foundation in 2007.
She met her husband — a rock drummer who later became an electrical engineer and a cellist — on a trip to Ottawa to visit her sister. After their marriage, Tina and Gary opened a classical music store on Elgin Street.
“When we opened the shop in 1999, we had dreams of doing something significant involving music,” she says.
Their business thrived, but it was almost seven years before Tina made a new connection that resulted in the founding of The Leading Note Foundation.

From a remarkable story to a remarkable new venture
“I had just come in from coaching the youth orchestra wind section,” she recalls. “I heard a review of a CD of a youth orchestra from Venezuela on the radio.”
The place struck a chord because her sister had just moved there with her husband, a Canadian diplomat.  The quality of the music sparked her interest. She followed up by researching the history of the group and uncovered “a remarkable story.”
This Venezuelan musical group, El Sistema, she discovered, had been founded by José Antonio Abreu in 1975. “A passionate musician, he decided that putting instruments into the hands of children in the slums in Venezuela could transform their lives. He was thinking not just of the playing of the instruments, but also of all the life skills you learn when you are playing, especially when you are with other people,” says Tina.
“Music teaches respect, teamwork, listening skills, compromise, punctuality, discipline and being in touch with your creativity. Believing that music could transform their lives, he started working with 11 children in a  basement garage. Now, more than 300,000 children in Venezuela are learning music six days a week. Many of them come from difficult backgrounds with very limited opportunities. Making music has opened doors of hope for them.”
Tina adds: “I’m a strong believer that when things are meant to happen, the stars line up. I knew that I wanted to visit my sister in Venezuela and check out El Sistema. I also heard that there was a documentary  about El Sistema — we are now the Canadian distributors for the DVD about the way it brings kids together to make music. So I went to Venezeula and got involved with El Sistema and did some teaching.”
With the success of El Sistema as their guide, Tina and Gary, together with Margaret Munro Tobolowska, a  cellist with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, founded The Leading Note Foundation. The Foundation gave its first class in the Bronson Centre in October 2007.
“We chose that location because it was within walking distance of three schools without music programs — Centennial, Cambridge Street and St. Anthony’s,” says Tina. “We had room for only 30 kids to start with, 10 from each school.”
Now 150 children (who speak 24 languages among them) are involved in the OrKidstra and the KidSingers of the Foundation. To date, more than $100,000 in instruments has been donated to the orchestral program. In addition, the organization recently opened a satellite office at the Yorkmusic-making program.

Giving musical opportunities to kids
“We want to introduce music programs and gradually give opportunities to the most interested kids,” says Tina. “Initially, it’s a community program for all kids who enjoy making music together, but we also want to enable those who want to go further to get on that pathway.”
Currently, nine teachers, together with University of Ottawa undergraduates in cooperative programs and high school mentors from the local youth orchestra, are involved in the “multi-level teaching system.”
“We have some of the best music teachers in town,” says Tina. “But they’re not just music teachers. They’re socially concerned and very caring people. The Leading Note Foundation is not a music program. It’s a community-building program through music. It’s about empowering kids.”

The Leading Note Foundation Mandate: To give children from under-served communities the opportunity to learn and make music together and the chance to benefit from the individual skills and community values inherent in music-making.

Mission Statement:
The Leading Note Foundation will:
• create opportunities for children, regardless of their social or economic background, to learn and make music together in a spirited community environment;
• create a social program through music that will not only increase the children’s ability as young music-makers, but will also instil mutual respect and improve self-esteem, creativity and teamwork;
• foster mentorship as an intrinsic part of the program, teaching the importance
of giving back both as mentors within the program and through community involvement; and
• act as a catalyst to create a vibrant network among the community, children and music educators to strengthen and grow music programs in the school systems in Ottawa.

For more information on The Leading Note Foundation, visit www.leadingnotefoundation.org
Iris Winston writes and lives in Almonte.

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