Educating the Heart - One Song at a Time

In the heart of Vancouver’s downtown eastside, a neighbourhood struggling with poverty and a myriad of social challenges, is a place that strives for social transformation using two very special vehicles.  The first is children, the second is music - together they make the magic of positive change. In a neighbourhood where many children may not have the opportunity to experience quality music education, the Saint James Music Academy (SJMA) offers just that through afterschool and outreach programs.

The SJMA will be performing during the visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Vancouver, October 21st, 2014. Students are preparing to share their community of music making, one that does more than “make music” -  it educates the hearts of children. Every child has talent, gifts and capacity, but not all children have access to the environment needed to nurture their gifts. It is up to those whom they trust – parents and other adults - to remove the external barriers to the fulfillment of their dreams.

It is no wonder that the music academy is a powerful catalyst. Both social and biological research indicate that being involved in music can influence brain development with a variety of positive outcomes:

●      High competence in music skills has been linked with motivation, self-perception, self-esteem, positive self attitudes, self-awareness, social skills, awareness of others, and friendships. (Hallam, 2010)

●      Musical experiences sharpen the brain’s ability to “encode” a skills that is used in listening, language and reading. (Kraus et. al., 2010)

●      In several studies including preschoolers, 1st graders, high school and college levels students, music participation was connected to higher creativity scores. (Hallam, 2010)

●      Brain scans provide evidence that those with musical experience have enhanced perception of emotions in other people’s voices.  (Strait, et al., 2009)

●      For urban youth, music instruction was found to be a protective factor for school achievement against risks such as attendance, self-efficacy and school behaviours. (Lucio, et al., 2011)

Children who participate in the programs such as SJMA, discover the deep riches of their own potential and gain new self-esteem. They learn about the beauty and the necessity of collaboration. They improve their reading, math and other academic skills and become role models to their peers and families, breaking the cycles of familial disengagement, poverty, and failure. They become artists, building their community, and embracing optimism for their future. In a word, they become empowered.

Nathalie, SJMA’s first ever graduate into university, was recently asked about her experience as a student of music at SJMA.  “When it all comes down to it” says Nathalie, “I would not be where I am today without the Saint James Music Academy experience.”


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