Rush Morrison is seven years old and he loves to sing.
For the last few months, he’s been a part of the Sistema program run by the Halifax Music Co-op.
“We’ve been doing some Italian songs, one Latin song, and the rest are English,” said Rush. He’s even got them all memorized.
Rush and other children in the area are getting the opportunity to sing in a choir, for free, thanks to the co-op.
On Monday, the first day of March Break, Rush strolls into the converted gymnasium on Barrington Street, which serves as the HMC’s rehearsal space, and immediately makes his presence known.
With a booming “Hello!” to Sarah Krawiec, Sistema’s director, he heads over to a stack of chairs and begins setting them up into rows for the parents, who stay to watch rehearsals.
Once the spectator seats are neatly set up it’s time to start rehearsals.
After some warm-up scales and some shuffling in seats, Krawiec brings the choir to order. They start off with Ave Maria, “not an easy song,” said Rush, but these children don’t disappoint.
Listen to the choir’s rendition of Ave Maria by Johann Sebastian Bach and Charles Gounod.
During a lull in rehearsals Rush proudly blurts out, “I bet I can sing louder than everyone else this time!”
He says it with a devilish chuckle, almost daring his peers to take him up on his challenge. It works. The next time around the gym is filled with the sound of all the children singing as loud as they can.
Krawiec said the vision for the HMC is to make music accessible to everybody, no matter their age.
“A lot of kids programming is so expensive that parents don’t end up putting their kids in music,” she said. “It’s better to start them off with music when they’re small because then they get an interest in it.”
Students like Rush are certainly interested.
He said the music lessons at school are “easy” and that Sistema is “way harder.” This is Rush’s first year in the Sistema program and he already sings a solo in one of the choir’s pieces.
Krawiec believes that music can help a child in all aspects of their lives.
“I’m thinking of one of my little girls. I’ve had a lot of breakthroughs with her. She named her violin, and she has this bond with it. She knows that when she’s sad that she can go and play her violin, and her violin will make her happy,” Krawiec said. “To me that’s something I do too, music makes me happy. Music is that thing that you go to when you need a release.”
At the moment there are more than 20 children in the program, ranging in ages from five to nine. There’s a choir, which most of the students are part of, along with three students learning the violin.
Currently the Sistema program is sponsored by Gordon Stirrett Wealth Management, a Halifax investment firm. It provides the funds needed for instrument repairs, salaries for teachers, advertising, and “snacks for the kids,” said Krawiec.
HMC’s program is based on the El Sistema program in Venezuela.
Jose Antonio Abreu, a musician and economist, founded the program in 1975. Its goal was to give impoverished children the opportunity to learn music. In Venezuela alone there are more than 700,000 children enrolled in the program.
The children in Sistema will be showcasing their talents on March 21, at their end of term recital.