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U of T grad Richard Marsella, executive director of the Regent Park School of Music. Photo by Air'leth Aqdhfin
Richard Marsella. Photo by Air'leth Aqdhfin

Towers of Song

A U of T music grad runs an innovative program to bring affordable music lessons to Regent Park youth

In the eight years she’s taught vocals at the Regent Park School of Music, Toronto opera singer Zorana Sadiq has learned that many of her students, despite growing up in large, lowincome families, live inside towers of song.

“There’s a lot of music in the home, and a lot of languages,” she says. Indeed, Sadiq’s students soak up music at church, in the choir, from parents – and even from grandparents who share musical traditions from their countries of origin.

The scrappy, entrepreneurial music school, which offers heavily subsidized music instruction to kids whose parents couldn’t otherwise afford it, moved into the Daniels Spectrum last fall. Decked out with soundproof rehearsal spaces and donated instruments, the new facility enables Sadiq and the other teachers to give students one-on-one instructional time without fighting the constant ambient sound that filled the school’s previous home, a cramped row-house on Queen Street East.

A local priest offered his church basement to the music school in the late 1990s, with the goal of providing local youth with the kind of enrichment activity that can be tough to come by in a public housing project. The school moved into the row house in 2004, says executive director Richard Marsella (BMus 2003, MMus 2005). The space, though larger, posed all sorts of challenges. With only a handful of rooms, they couldn’t keep up with demand and the sound carried through old walls. “We couldn’t rehearse more than four kids at the Queen Street location,” says Marsella. “You couldn’t focus.”

In 2005, Mitchell Cohen, president of the Daniels Corporation and a volunteer with U of T’s Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, stumbled across the school on his way to work during the revitalization planning process and became intrigued. “It was an unbelievably beautiful thing they had happening,” he says. “I was very, very inspired.” A lifelong musician, Cohen immediately recognized the value that music education has on the lives of children and youth. “Music is a pathway to a bigger world outside the confines of a barriered community.”

Now ensconced at the Daniels Spectrum, Marsella says the school is in a much better position to meet the community need for music training. Enrolment has jumped from 800 to about 1,100, including satellite classes and summer music camp programs in Parkdale and Jane-Finch. Its goal is to reach 3,000 youth by 2015.

The waiting area, he adds, is abuzz with activity between 4 and 8 p.m. on most days, with older students coming by just to hang out and play. “Every family is different,” Marsella says. “They all have a unique set of challenges, but they all come for the same reason: they want the best education for their child.”

Regent Park School of Music student Charlotte Ann Siegel sings “Every Little Voice,” written by Hawksley Workman

“Every Little Voice” by Charlotte Ann Siegel

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