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Inspiring Young Hearts & Minds

A Look inside Our Partnership with Sistema Toronto
June 27, 2024

At the centre of a brightly lit library in an east Scarborough elementary school, a small string orchestra rehearses the propulsive strains of a piece newly commissioned by Sistema Toronto called Race Car by Aaron Manswell. The eyes of the budding musicians dart back and forth between their music stands and the tall man at the front who is enthusiastically guiding them, both with his hands and with his voice. Periodically, the man—TSO Barrett Principal Education Conductor & Community Ambassador Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser—pauses the rehearsal to ask the players a question, help a student adjust their positioning, or share a musical insight or anecdote. By the end, they hang on his every word when he reminds them, “The slower you practise, the faster you learn.”

This experience, held on May 28, was part of a day of engaging workshops that brought to a close a season-long partnership between your TSO and Sistema Toronto—two like-minded non-profit organizations committed to supporting music education for under-represented groups. Sistema Toronto brings barrier-free music and social development education to students in under-served communities across the city, providing ten hours of programming each week at no cost to participants or their families. This collaboration joins our existing slate of similar initiatives including our School Concerts for GTA students, Young People’s Concerts subscription series, Symphony Storytime with the Toronto Public Library, collaborations with the Art Gallery of Ontario, and others.

Over the course of our 2023/24 season—which essentially coincided with the school year—we engaged Sistema Students via three touchpoints:

  • On November 13 and 14, Daniel led workshops at Yorkwoods Public School and Lambton Park Community School focused on the life and music of 18th-century Black composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, rehearsed a piece by Saint-George, and participated in mini conducting tutorials.
  • On May 22, the Sistema students visited Roy Thomson Hall for a master class on Aretha Franklin and vocal warm-ups led by Shaleah Adkisson, one of the singers featured in our Pops homage to the Queen of Soul. This was followed by a backstage tour of the hall and visit to the TSO Music Library.
  • And on May 7 and 28, at Parkdale Junior & Senior Public School and St. Martin de Porres Catholic School, respectively, Daniel led rehearsals for string ensembles and spoke with participants about his own musical journey.

To help students connect what they learned to the live-music experience, we invited them and their families to attend a number of TSO performances throughout the season, including Saint-Georges’ Sword & Bow, Bhangra & Beyond, and FREEDOM! A Tribute to Aretha Franklin. At the latter concert, Adkisson gave a shout-out from the stage to the Sistema students, who exploded with cheers.

In an interview with Kathleen Kajioka on The New Classical FM’s Sunday Night at the TSO, Sistema Toronto CEO Shawn Earle described the students’ overwhelmingly positive response to the initial workshop with Daniel: “They’ve really, really enjoyed it. Lots of laughs. Lots of smiles,” he said. “We’re just grateful to have…people working at the top of their field come work with our students, come work with our teachers and have a similar mission and similar goal.”

In a sense, Daniel is just paying it forward. “That’s how I got started,” he explained on the day of the final sessions. “Some orchestral musicians came to my classroom…and I realized, oh, this isn’t something that’s out there…. This is something that’s actually in my life right now…. We are planting seeds, and we’re hoping that those seeds will take root in people’s lives and later on bear fruit—of joy, happiness, and music-making, not only in their lives but in the entire community…. If we enrich one person, we enrich the entire community.”

To learn more about Sistema Toronto, visit

See and hear more about our spring Sistema sessions:

Inspiring Young Hearts & Minds - A Look inside the TSO's Partnership with Sistema Toronto