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Tunes for everyone

The Heart of the City Music Program encourages accessibility for all children,
providing free private lessons to at-risk youth across the city

A typical student year-end recital, performed at Muttart Hall. (The HCMP)

By Natasja Pitcher

PRIVATE MUSIC lessons in Edmonton often come with high fees, making it impossible for lower-income youth to learn an instrument.

The Heart of the City Music Program (HCMP) is a non-profit group at the University of Alberta, that provides free private music lessons to at-risk youth, who otherwise could not afford to pursue music.

“Every child should receive equitable lifelong learning opportunities despite their socioeconomic background,” event co-ordinator Amanda Fernandes says.

“The HCMP tries to break the myth that only individuals whose parents can afford lessons for their children can participate in music lessons. We believe learning should not come with a price.”

Fernandes started with the program by volunteering as a piano instructor, then moving up to event co-ordinator in her second year.

“Helping students overcome barriers that are out of their control and providing them with a sense of accomplishment, motivates me to want to continue being part of this program,” she says. 

The HCMP came to Edmonton in 2002 and is governed by the national group, The Heart of the City Piano Program. The organization offers lessons on several instruments to youth, with the instructors being university students with a vast knowledge of music. The instructors come from the University of Alberta and MacEwan University, and volunteer their time to teach students in inner-city schools and at the Norwood Child and Family Centre. 

However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, over the past two years, the lessons have been taught virtually. 

Vice program director, Kaylee Kim, talks about the challenges some families face in putting their children into music programs.

“It is challenging to afford private musical education, as well as to find programs that enhance musical education,” she says. “Paid music programs are extremely expensive; it is extremely difficult for lower income families to afford these.”

‘Individual lessons can range from
$100 to $250 a month’

Program director Caitlyn Gan says the average cost of having just one child participate in private music lessons can be prohibitive.

“A good music teacher can cost $60 an hour, [which] would end up being $240 a month. Individual lessons can range from $100 to $250 a month, just for one child.

“Low-income – and middle-income – families don’t have that kind of expendable income. It is an extremely inaccessible program.”

Gan attributes the sacrifices her parents made to put her into music programs to helping make her the person she is. That, she says, is why she chose to be a part of the HCMP: “Knowing that this program can relieve the stress for lower-income families.” 

Jared Sieusahai, the community outreach director, says teaching music to the children in the program is a rewarding opportunity that he will never forget.  

“It is honestly the most incredible feeling in the world to know that you have a positive impact on a child’s life.”

Sieusahai is a fourth-year psychology major minoring in music at the University of Alberta. He teaches for the HCMP, and acts as outreach director. He says music has always been an important part in his life.

“I wanted to instruct for the HCMP because learning music and guitar was such an integral part of my personal development. 

“I wanted to allow other children to have a similar experience.”

Sieusahai manages and organizes the performance troupe, a group that performs at public functions to raise funds for the program. All proceeds earned from each show go towards the HCMP. 

The performance troupe currently has a series of concerts at the Art Gallery of Alberta, with performances scheduled for April 3, May 1, and May 15.

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