The Big Sound – El Sistema Grey Bruce set to Launch This Fall

A new after school music program is coming to Grey-Bruce

For Immediate Release

September 10, 2018   

Owen Sound: Inspired by a program developed in Venezuela in the mid 1970s, a local volunteer Board of Directors is announcing plans to launch a new and exciting after-school program this fall, for children in Grey Bruce. The Big Sound – El Sistema Grey Bruce (“The Big Sound”) will feature musical instruction, social development and of course fun!

“Our goal is to create opportunities for children who, for various reasons, are often excluded from extra-curricular musical activities, such as playing in an ensemble or orchestra,” said Board Chair David McLeish. “We want to replicate the success of other El Sistema programs operating in Canada and internationally and support vulnerable families while improving the self-esteem, academic performance, and a sense of inclusion for their children.”

Different than traditional music lessons, The Big Sound will teach participants to sing and play an orchestral instrument in an ensemble that meets several days per week throughout the school year. Classes will be led by qualified teachers, mentors and coaches who will create a safe and caring environment for children. Nutritious snacks will also be a part of the program. The Big Sound will be offered at no-cost to children or their family.

“There are a number of barriers kids in our region may face in accessing after-school programs with a musical component,” said David. “We know locally some families struggle to afford or include extra-curricular activities as a part of their day-to-day lives. We want to support those families specifically and we believe this will make The Big Sound special.”

The Big Sound operates on the evidence-based premise that musical instruction improves a child’s self-confidence, concentration and motivation. Ultimately this can translate in to greater academic achievement and a healthier, happier life.

A pilot program with up to 25 students from grades 4 and 5 at Hillcrest Elementary School will begin in the fall of 2018. “We are excited to partner with The Big Sound and work with its volunteer Board to help evaluate the impact of this program on our students,” said Hillcrest Principal Keith Lefebvre.

Although the program will initially serve children and youth attending “in town” schools, The Big Sound hopes to eventually expand the program throughout both Grey and Bruce Counties.

“Once the program is well established, it is our intention to provide more spaces for students, and provide live performance opportunities within the community” said David. “This will provide the students with opportunities to showcase their new skills and abilities, but also the profile and visibility of the program, which in turn should garner the boarder community’s interest and support. ”

Contact:          David McLeish



The Big Sound – El Sistema Grey Bruce


For over 35 years, students and graduates from Sistema-based programs have been impacted by the guiding principles of the program. Participants have experienced the power and joy of being part of something larger through musical collaboration. There are now hundreds of similar programs, which serve an estimated one million children in at least sixty countries around the world including Ottawa, London and Toronto.

The Big Sound is part of a growing network of núcleos (centres) that are connected at the regional, national, and global levels. Each are operated locally but share a common goal: provide the tools to create better futures for the children who participate and encourage them to help build a stronger community. There are no annual fees or dues to establish local organizations and they are all independently operated.

El Sistema Grey Bruce – The Big Sound Inc. is a registered not-for-profit charitable organization and official tax receipts will be issued for all eligible donations/charitable gifts.

The operating budget for The Big Sound is approximately $60,000 per year and includes expenses such as musical instruments, food and instructors. Funding has already been received from The McConnell Foundation, the Leflar Foundation, the Community Foundation Grey Bruce, MusiCounts, the United Way of Bruce Grey and a number of individual donations. In addition, a number of partnerships have been established to off-set program costs. The Bluewater District School Board, Long & McQuade and Yamaha Music Canada are supporting program development in various ways.

In announcing The Big Sound today, the organization hopes to receive support from the community. To learn more about The Big Sound or to make a donation, visit their Facebook page: “El Sistema Grey Bruce – The Big Sound” or email them at



The Big Sound – El Sistema Grey Bruce

 Qs & As

 What is El Sistema?

El Sistema is a publicly financed, voluntary music education program that was established in Venezuela in 1975 by José Antonio Abreu. The intent of El Sistema was to promote social change through music. By providing free classical musical instruction to impoverished children, the program sought to create better opportunity and development for children at risk. In its first year, the program began with 11 children enrolled. Today there are over 400 music centres offering El Sistema inspired teaching internationally and over 1 million children & youth have participated in a program.

Do you have a mission statement?

To enrich the lives of children and youth by teaching them the global language of music. Through musicianship, inspire them to achieve their full potential and acquire values, skills, and knowledge that will help them pursue excellence and thus foster social change in the community.

Do all El Sistemas offer the same program?

No. Each program is individually operated, but all subscribe to shared values in terms of the populations they seek to support (vulnerable children and youth), the curriculum (orchestral training) and their purpose (to improve the opportunity for the growth and to inspire social change). Each centre is unique in how they identify vulnerable populations and how they work to make a community better.

How do new centres open internationally?

All El Sistema inspired programs begin with a group of committed volunteers who have identified a need in a particular community to support vulnerable children and youth. Using resources available through Sistema Global, local leaders can tailor programs and teachings to meet local needs in establishing a centre. But the oversight and operation of these centres is 100% local.

Are there any fees or dues required to operate an El Sistema music centre?

No. El Sistema inspired centres are not required to pay any fees or dues to a central organization. All money raised locally, stays local.

Where are El Sistema programs currently operating?

El Sistema inspired programs are currently being offered in over 60 countries worldwide, including in almost every province in Canada. Ontario currently has centres in Huronia, Mississauga, Ottawa, London and Toronto.

What is The Big Sound?

The Big Sound is the name that is being given to the local El Sistema music program that will begin operating in Grey Bruce this fall. The name is an acknowledgement of the geography of our community, but as well a reference to the power of music to amplify the voices of children and youth in our community.

Why is there a need for a program like The Big Sound in Grey Bruce?

There are a number of important reasons to establish any program in our community that seeks to support at-risk youth. In our region, the grade 12 five-year graduation rate is below provincial targets, the average income of our residents is 20% lower than the provincial average and almost one in five homes are “lone-parent” households. Children and youth in Grey Bruce will benefit from having another resource available that supports their education by promoting teamwork, organizational ability, coping skills, and discipline.

What will The Big Sound music centre offer to families in Grey Bruce?

The Big Sound will begin its first program offering in the fall of 2018.   It will consist of ensemble-based musical lessons, led by qualified teachers, mentors and coaches and will run three days per week, for 2.5 hours a day. The Big Sound will operate much like an after-school program, providing instruction in a safe and caring environment when school is done. Enrolled students will receive instruction in string instruments, choral music, and general musicianship as well as be provided snacks and other support.

How is The Big Sound different from music lessons?

The Big Sound is much different than traditional music lessons. Our focus will be on ensemble learning, so that students learn to work together and support each other’s growth. Instruction will be geared to support student’s individual skills, but the emphasis will be on creating music together. The Big Sound will also support more than just musical development by providing snacks and social engagement opportunities.

How much will it cost to enrol in The Big Sound?

There is no financial cost to enrol, however, participants are expected to make a commitment to attend and participate. Like other El Sistema inspired centres, this initiative will be locally funded by community donation, grants or other revenue opportunities. The Big Sound does not want cost to be a barrier to opportunity for children and youth at risk.

Who will be eligible to enroll in The Big Sound?

Any student enrolled in a school within Grey or Bruce County will be eligible to apply. In our first year, we will be partnering with Hillcrest Public School to establish our first program. Up to 25 students from Grades 4 and 5 will form the first cohort.   After our first year of operation, more students will be invited to apply for our fall 2019 program.

The focus of The Big Sound will be to support vulnerable families in our community. Parents’ or guardians’ of interested students will be invited to apply through a process that protects their circumstance and dignity. We hope to enroll children & youth who have less access to extra-curricular activities, for reasons that may include financial, transportation or other restrictions.

What will students need to bring if they are enrolled in The Big Sound?

Students will not be required to purchase any special equipment to be a part of The Big Sound. Instruments, instruction and support are all included in the program.

When will The Big Sound meet?

In our first year, the program will run after-school on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3:15 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.. This will give students the opportunity to benefit from a healthy snack, music and movement, and instrumental instruction, and other support.

How will The Big Sound raise money to support their program?

El Sistema Grey Bruce – The Big Sound is a registered charity, able to raise funds and provide charitable tax receipts for all eligible donations. In addition to individual donations, The Big Sound has already earned the support of the McConnell Foundation, MusiCounts, the Leflar Foundation, the Community Foundation Grey Bruce, United Way Grey Bruce, Long & McQuade, and Yamaha Music Canada, and private individuals who have contributed to this initiative.

In-kind donations of instruments, instruction and other supplies will also offset the costs of operation.

What is the operating budget for The Big Sound?

The operating budget for our first-year is approximately $60,000. This amount reflects expenses associated with ensuring every enrolled student is provided a nutritious snack, has access to instruments, classroom instruction, and other costs directly associated with the program. The volunteer Board does not receive any money for their work and has strict policies in place for how payment is made to instructors and essential positions to make the program function. All money raised will go directly to support The Big Sound.


If The Big Sound enrolls only 25 students in its first year, how can this be considered a county-wide program?


The intent in beginning with a small cohort will allow The Big Sound to evaluate the program, get feedback from participants, their families, and from the School Board. It is important that we ensure we are meeting our goals and set the foundation for success in the future. It is our hope that students in the first cohort follow the program year-over-year, forming strong bonds with their peers, learning valuable skills and of course improving their musicianship. As we learn more about how our program works for the community, we will be able to reach more people and have a better understanding of how quickly we can expand the program.

I want to support The Big Sound, how can I do that?

The Big Sound is dependent on the community to support our program, and this support can come in many ways.   You can:

  • Make a financial donation to El Sistema Grey Bruce. All eligible donations will receive a charitable tax receipt for income tax purposes.
  • Make an in-kind donation to The Big Sound. You can help offset some of our costs by providing or sponsoring the purchase of musical instruments, or provide accessible rehearsal space.
  • Volunteer to support The Big Sound. We will have lots of opportunities for people to get involved in a meaningful way and help the program. We will post a list of volunteer activities on our website soon.
  • Tell your friends and help us reach more people with our story. Music has long been an important part of Grey Bruce. From festivals to open-mic nights, from campfires to the stage, music is everywhere. The more people that learn what we are trying to do, the more support we think we can find.

How do I learn more about The Big Sound and El Sistema?

To learn more about the program, visit us at or contact us at

How do I make a donation to The Big Sound?

Cheques can be made payable to The Big Sound and mailed/delivered to:

El Sistema Grey Bruce (The Big Sound)

c/o Middlebro’ & Stevens LLP

P.O. Box 100, 1030 2nd Avenue East, Owen Sound ON N4K 5P1.


Alternatively, donations can be made online at CanadaHelps. For donations of cash or in-kind services, please email us at or phone 519-372-9715.