Changing lives through Music September 2019

Sebastian White on the violin

A radical way of learning to play music is opening up Whangarei children's lives to new possibilities and building their resilience.

That's what Sam Winterton, programme director of Sistema Whangarei has discovered since 2013 when the charitable trust began in Otangarei, freely teaching children the violin, cello, double bass and viola.

"Most people consider these instruments are for other people who are more special, more clever or have more money, " Sam says. "When a child learns to play them it changes their view of what is possible." 

Sistema means 'The System' as in an international programme which began in Venezuela. It uses ensemble learning, "radical inclusion" and community involvement to flip the traditional way of learning music. 

"They start with a whisper instrument made of ply and play together. By the end of the first session they feel they can play something, and by the end of a term, they can."

120 children are enrolled with Sistema Whangarei and once enrolled they stay as long as they like. They can attend up to three two-hour classes each week, for which there is no charge. 

Programme Manager Michelle Jones says their kaupapa is about more than music. 

"We are about creating resilience and a healthy community. It's important the children always feel welcome, acknowledged and treasured so they want to continue." 

Sebastian White began learning the violin with Sistema five years ago and says it is one of his most favourite things to do. 

"I like the actual fun of it, the people, the place, the sound we create," says the 11-year-old Tikipunga High student when asked why he keeps attending. "And Michelle and Sam are so kind."
Students are encouraged to practice at home but Sam says to really do their best they each need a music stand, shoulder rest, clear files, pencils and a music bag. Donations of any of these items would be gratefully received.

Other ways to help are joining the team as a volunteer driver or with musicianship, helping out with afternoon tea or supporting the young students during the afternoon sessions. Contact us at Volunteering Northland to learn more.

Story by Leah Ruskin