Sistema Toronto

To build and sustain an intensive social program that provides free, ensemble-based music lessons to inspire children at risk to realize their full potential as students, musicians, and citizens.

That big Pachanga Beat!Our Impact Why We Exist

Our Mission

Sistema Toronto is an intensive social program transforming the lives of children through ensemble-based music.

Our Vision

Through the global language of music children grow to realize their full potential as engaged and responsible citizens.

The Three Pillars of Sistema Toronto

  1. We are a team
  2. We always do our best
  3. We always help each other

Even the Premier's a fan!Our Story What We Do


Sistema Toronto is dedicated to creating permanent social change through music.  Inspired by Venezuela’s UNESCO-acclaimed El Sistema movement, a core aim of Sistema Toronto is to effect social change by providing musical and intellectual opportunities for children from disadvantaged and vulnerable communities who would not otherwise have such opportunities.

The Sistema method of practice provides an extraordinary example of how, given excellent support, high expectations, and high-quality resources, individuals and groups can achieve remarkable things through participation in joyful music-making.

By presenting concerts to local communities, our students are promoting a wider appreciation of music and performing arts.  Sistema Toronto’s Playing to Potential program is breaking new ground by using music as a way to change lives. In so doing, we are addressing issues of poverty and the resulting lack of social, educational, and economic opportunity. It is empowering: we enable children to see that their future is not predetermined and that with the right attitude and work ethic their goals can be achieved.

Since 2011 Sistema Toronto has opened four centres in Parkdale, Jane/Finch, and two neighbourhoods in Scarborough.  All our centres operate after school from 3:15pm to 6:00pm in schools in the Toronto District and Toronto Catholic District School Boards, with whom we have established strong working partnerships.

Throughout the school year Sistema Toronto’s 220 children, ages 6-14, play to their potential ten hours per week, led by a team of 28 professional artist-teachers. Each child who participates in our uniquely intensive social development program receives his or her own instrument, and a daily nutritious snack. Our Honorary Music Ambassadors Shauna Rolston, Yo-Yo Ma, Peter Oundjian, James Ehnes, and Isabel Bayrakdarian support the students through masterclasses, impromptu concerts, and talks.

All this, at a cost per child per year of $3,500, is provided to families free of charge.  Most importantly, once a child is accepted into the program, she gets eight years of intensive music instruction at a total cost of $28,000 per child.

By working and striving together for musical excellence, we encourage children to grow as individuals as they come to understand their potential and how to realize it. By playing in orchestral ensembles, children learn confidence, self-esteem, creativity, perseverance, and leadership. By performing music together each child learns how he can contribute to the success of the larger enterprise in which everyone has a role.


Parents play a key role in supporting their own children, and they also contribute to the program in many different ways. There is evidence that our program has significant benefits for parents as well, including a greater sense of empowerment, self-efficacy, self-esteem, and raised aspirations for their children.

Parents and caregivers represent a crucial link with the community, and the program has helped to forge a stronger sense of shared purpose among parent networks.


There is also a sense of pride, particularly among the families of participating children, that their community is home to the program. Community engagement is also strengthened when families recognize the positive outcomes that their children derive from participation in the program. Frequent community concerts and intensive media campaigns that celebrate the program also contribute to engaging local communities.

We are strongly dedicated to our communities. Once Sistema Toronto opens a centre we are fully committed to delivering our program over the long term in the belief that only consistent, year-after-year work with children from grades 1 to 8 can create the kind of generational, positive social change that we seek to achieve. 

Yo-Yo Ma gives a master classOur Programs How We Do It

Playing To Potential is an intensive after-school program that enhances social development of the child through the power of music. It gives children at risk ten hours of orchestral and choral instruction per week throughout the 38-week school year. The program is free of charge, and each child receives their own instrument, as well a nutritious daily snack.

Sistema Toronto operates in Parkdale Junior and Senior Public School; Jane/Finch's Yorkwoods Public School; and Military Trail Public School and St. Martin de Porres Catholic School in Kingston-Galloway-Orton Park. It provides music lessons four days a week, instruments and a healthy after-school snack - all at no charge. Lessons take place from September to June in an ensemble-based social-learning environment. Delivering ten hours of lessons each week, the uniquely intensive nature of Sistema Toronto's program means that in three years, each student will have received the equivalent of ten years of traditional training.

The philosophy that drives Sistema Toronto's Playing to Potential program is built on three program pillars:

  • Instrumental – the Sistema program focuses on the development of instrumental skills and disciplines necessary for participating in an ensemble and orchestral setting.
  • Voice - children sing in Sistema choir to develop their natural voices as a way to reinforce unique lyrical expression and personal confidence.
  • Rhythm - children work in percussion ensembles in order to develop disciplined rhythmic integrity in support and development of their instrumental and vocal work.

No previous musical experience or training is required to join Playing to Potential. The only prerequisites are enthusiasm, commitment, and a dedication to learn. 

Sistema Toronto: Playing to Potential

The uniquely intensive daily instruction that characterizes Playing to Potential is a key to its success. Sistema Toronto skilled and committed team of professional artists and musicians act as our teachers and instructors. They are among the best of this country’s young performers and musical educators, and their passion and dedication drives so much of the program's success.

The orchestra and choir are more than simply artistic structures. They are models to teach the children values such as cooperation and mutual support. The children quickly learn that they belong to something greater than the sum of its parts, and they acquire valuable life skills by:

  • Learning to play an instrument, sing in choir, and work in rhythmic ensembles
  • Working toward a common goal
  • Learning to help each other and work as a team
  • Building confidence and self-esteem
  • Creating and improvising
  • Making new friends and having fun.

As well as transforming the lives of the children, Sistema makes stronger communities. A happy and fulfilled child makes for a happier family, which is the basis for a vigorous, healthy community. The children gain a foundation to grow and thrive as engaged citizens and future leaders. 

Donors & Sponsors

Sistema Toronto continues to receive generous support for its Playing to Potential program from progressive local and national organizations, and from many far-sighted individual donors.  The power of music has brought us together, and we take great pride in working with these community leaders.

Sistema Toronto appreciates the generosity of all our supporters.  None of what we have accomplished would have been possible without their shared commitment to our vision, and a belief in the importance of our work.

If you would like to join us on our musical journey, there are many ways in which you can support us.  Visit our How to Donate page to find out how you can help.

Visionario: $50,000 and above

  • The Gordon & Ruth Gooder Charitable Foundation
  • TD Financial
  • Robert Eisenberg
  • George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation
  • Yamaha Music Canada
  • Toronto Foundation
  • W. Garfield Weston Foundation
  • Wrohan Holding Company
  • The Ontario Trillium Foundation - An Agency of the Government of Ontario
  • Goldie Feldman Fund at the Toronto Foundation
  • Bluma Appel Community Trust

Maestro: $25,000 to $49,999

  • Marianne Oundjian
  • RBC Foundation
  • Halsall Family Foundation at the Toronto Foundation
  • Middlefield Charitable Foundation
  • Telus
  • CIBC Children’s Foundation
  • Thomas Schwartz
  • Robert S. Williams
  • Jillian Eisenberg and Danny Roth
  • Bell Media
  • Power Corporation of Canada
  • Galin Foundation

Conductor: $10,000 to $24,999

  • J.W. McConnell Family Foundation
  • Wendy Eisenberg
  • Scotiabank
  • Marcia Lewis Brown
  • Hugh Furneaux and Penny Fine
  • The Grocery Foundation
  • The Hal Jackman Foundation
  • The Lang Family Foundation
  • Merle Kriss
  • George Weston Ltd.
  • Shum Vourkoutiotis Fund at the Toronto Foundation
  • Glenn Gould Foundation
  • Sterling Beckwith
  • Kenneth G. Mills Foundation
  • Morningstar Canada
  • Karim Kanji
  • Maria-Elena Stern
  • George Ehring

Concertmaster: $5,000 to $9,999

  • University of Lethbridge
  • The Cooperators
  • Florence Minz
  • Richard and Colleen Peddie Foundation at the Toronto Foundation
  • Kahanoff Foundation
  • Granovsky and Gluskin Charitable Foundation
  • The Beatrice and Arthur Minden Foundation
  • Joseph Paterson
  • TDSB
  • D'Addario Foundation
  • Morton Greenberg
  • Margaret Zeidler
  • Dr. William Waters
  • Jordan Family Foundation
  • William Rickard - GCCL Holdings Inc.
  • Jane Zeidler
  • Lay Family Foundation
  • Arts Access Fund

Program Impact

In the words of our parents:

  • It’s easier to talk to my kids now; they are more open.
  • Sistema is the number-one topic in the community… we’re the envy of other parents.
  • Sistema has helped make kids safer.
  • Sistema helps our kids to be better people and have a brighter future.
  • This program brings out the greatest potential in kids in music, character, and being their own person.

Our choir at our 2015 Red Violin Gala What You Can Do

Activities a donation will support

Teachers are our greatest program asset and our greatest investment. Funding would go directly to support teaching costs as well as costs related to ongoing skill enhancement and instructor training. In order to attract teachers for Sistema Toronto, we must undertake to train them in preparation for the program.

Another major expense is musical instruments - violins, violas, cellos, and bass violins. The expansion to Scarborough entailed the purchase of 80 instruments, and we continually need to buy more instruments for our existing programs in Parkdale and Yorkwoods.

A grant to our program will help Sistema Toronto in advancing its five-year plan to bring its program to as many as 800 children. Every dollar invested allows children, who would not otherwise have the opportunity to experience the pride and joy of working as a team, to learn and make music together.

Donation impact

With financial support Sistema Toronto will enhance the quality and reach of its instruction, deepen its roots within the communities it serves, and expand our program to other disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Toronto and beyond.


David Visentin
President and CEO
Charitable Number: 819256603RR0001


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