RPSM choir rehearsing with Devin Cuddy Band for their benefit concert.

Music lives at Regent Park

Music school provides affordable music lessons for Toronto youth

Regent Park School of Music is not the average school. The tuition is one dollar a lesson, and yet the students get to perform with legendary artists such as Roger Waters, Pharrell Williams and Broken Social Scene.

It originally began 15 years ago with 70 students at the basement of a church, and now offers music lessons to nearly more than one thousand students.

Executive Director Richard Marsella said the school is now part of a revitalization process in the neighbourhood.

“We’re playing a big role in these families’ lives,” Marsella said. “And we’re giving their kids really high quality music education.”

Located at the newly built Daniels Spectrum, a cultural center at Regent Park, Regent Park School of Music works as an after school program for underprivileged children to have access to affordable music lessons. They also provide after school music programs at several elementary schools in Jane and Finch area, Parkdale, Alexandra Park, and Malvern.

With a million-dollar operating budget to achieve the goal of two thousand kids by 2015, the school resorts to fund-raising.

“We rely on the generosity of others,” Marsella said. “Every $5 donation counts.”

RPSM offers kids from low-income families opportunities that are as valuable as the ones offered by many renowned schools in North America, but for $35 dollars a year. Their choir has performed with Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters at his 2010 show in Toronto. They have also collaborated with Broken Social Scene, and blues singer Molly Johnson amongst others. Only a few weeks ago their IPAD Ensemble was featured on Pharrell William’s 24-hour music video for the International Day of Happiness.

The school started in 1999 with a royal conservatory model. When Marsella came on board he started pushing the alternative side of music education.

“We’re helping kids find their voices,” Marsella said. “That could be with a steel pan, banging on a can or a bucket or a squeezing sound out an iPad or traditionally.”

Growing up listening from Rush, to Frank Zappa and Russian classical composers, Marsella believes that music should be all about total and complete freedom.

“Constructive anarchy is something I believe in,” he said, “and I inject all of that into the work that I do at school. It’s cool to rebel, it’s cool to defy the norm, but do it in a way that doesn’t hurt others.”

Sharing these ideas about this model with other municipalities and transforming the way music is thought is one of Marsella’s ultimate goals.

The students are getting ready for their benefit concert this Saturday, which will bring some of the best Canadian musicians together to offer their support to the RPSM cause. Closer to the Heart will feature performances by Larry Evoy of Edward Bear, who will perform with his son Cooper, as well as Holly McNarland, Tyler Stewart of the Barenaked Ladies, and the school’s graduate and classical pianist Thompson Egbo-Egbo, among others.

The show will be at Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St. E., on April 12, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Regent Park School of Music will also give an annual fundraiser show called Crescendo on April 28.  Funds raised at the event will go towards expanding the school’s program offerings. Tickets for the fundraiser are available online at www.rpmusic.org