Written by: Karen Whaley
Photo provided by: Regent Park School of Music
The past five years have been a time of massive expansion for the Regent Park School of Music (RPSM), a non-profit that provides highly subsidized music lessons to youth-in-need. Since 2010, they have increased their capacity from 290 students in the Regent Park community to more than 1,700 students across the city, with satellite programming in the Parkdale and Jane and Finch neighbourhoods. But do higher numbers necessarily equal higher impact? As RPSM enters a new phase of growth with the release of their 2016-2020 strategic plan, the emphasis remains on quality over quantity.
At the core of the school’s vision is a diverse, student-led curriculum that values youth engagement over musical excellence. “95% of parents who walk through our door want to put their children in private piano or violin lessons,” says Director Richard Marsella. RPSM students must spend at least two years in group lessons before they can be considered for private instruction. “Our model for music education is a journey that lasts from age 3-18 and involves a lot of ensemble time,” Marsella explains. Kids get to experiment with a range of instruments and modes of musical expression, including DJing and steel pan. Classes may consist of throwing ping pong balls at a drum kit.
Another initiative moving forward is working with community partners to deliver programming to kids who face more than financial barriers, such as children with disabilities and teens in the youth justice system. A recent partnership with the First Nations School of Toronto has introduced more than one hundred K-8 students to RPSM’s unique brand of music education.
Now in its 17th year, RPSM has seen a generation of youth grow up in its programming. Some former students are even faculty. “It’s hard to quantify the exact impact that the organization has had on the community but we’re excited to tell those stories,” says Marsella. An upcoming documentary, Changing Keys, tells the story of RPSM against the backdrop of dramatic neighbourhood upheaval of the Regent Park Redevelopment.
On April 20, RPSM hosts its annual fundraiser, Crescendo 2016, in Ada Slaight Hall at Daniels Spectrum, featuring Andy Kim, Reuben and the Dark, Devin Cuddy, Alex Pangman, Karl Wolf and more. Tickets are available online at www.rpcrescendo.org