Making the magic happen with OrKidstra in Vanier

Jason Rojas is a 14 year old high school student at Canterbury High School. Photo: Peter Robb

It’s an early Wednesday evening and despite the dark, misty, skies outside, inside the Rideau Community Hub there is a lot of bright light and a definite hum of activity. Young people, from tykes to teens are dashing about all of them carrying a case containing a bit of magic in the form of a musical instrument.

This is OrKidstra in motion. For those who don’t know OrKidstra is an organization dedicated to building a community around the joyful pursuit of music. It offers instruments and instruction to young people who do not have the wherewithal to participate in music because of family income.

The focus this Wednesday is on what the organization calls its Vanier Hub. Inside the building, in classrooms teaching violin, saxophone, French horn, you name it they teach it, young people are practicing and getting ready for a Christmas concert on Dec. 11.

Jason Rojas is one. He is the youngest of five children. The family lives near the intersection of Walkley and Russell Roads.

Fourteen year old Jason plays the violin. He’s been with the Vanier Hub since it opened in 2016. OrKidstra has two hubs. The other operates out of the Bronson Centre and serves kids in Centretown. The Vanier Hub serves Vanier North and South, Overbrook-McArthur and the surrounding areas.

When the Vanier Hub opened it was located in Rideau High School. When the high school closed, the hub moved to the nearby Ottawa Technical Secondary School on Donald Street. When the high school reopened as a community hub, OrKidstra moved back in.

Jason, who is now in Grade 9 at Canterbury High School, says he didn’t start playing the violin until he started at OrKidstra. He’s proving to be a pretty quick study. Making Canterbury requires an audition and he made the grade in just a couple of years of work.

“I wanted to learn an instrument and it was drawn to my attention. When I first tried it, something just clicked. It felt good,” he said.

He hadn’t tried playing music before that. He had seen an Ottawa Symphony Orchestra concert and he had checked out music on the internet but he wasn’t a fan of forms such as hip hop or indie rock.

He discovered OrKidstra through a friend who had joined in elementary school and learned how to play the saxophone. He told Jason about the program and how good it is.

So he gave it a try.

He was given a violin that he could take home. Jason practices 90 minutes a day. He plays classical music and it turns out “I like Mozart and Mendelssohn.” He likes Baroque music too. He had never heard much about those composers or those words before. He knows them now.

“Classical music feels like you are playing the instrument inside you.” The music really moves Jason. It is in his soul.

His siblings like his music and it also helps him at school, he said. And his parents are enthusiastic supporters.

“When I play the violin it makes you focus.” These days he’s concentrating on rehearsing some Mendelssohn for the Vanier concert on Dec. 11. He is in the string orchestra as a first violin. The Centretown Hub concert is Dec. 18.

The Vanier Hub has about 130 participants, said Rebecca Russell, OrKidstra’s development and communications officer. The organization offers programs for children from aged five to 18. There is a choir, a string orchestra, in which Jason plays, and a band program. They haven’t yet created a full orchestra with strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion in the Vanier hub, but that seems to be just a matter of time.

The children from the two hubs do get together especially during the summer at a camp that OrKidstra holds.

And therein lies the secret. These young people are forming their own community — through learning their instruments and taking part in activities together.

Jason says he’s made a lot of friends in his musical family. He knows that if OrKidstra wasn’t there, he likely wouldn’t be able to play the violin because his family couldn’t afford one.

The success of OrKidstra is word of mouth.

“Since the word got out, the Vanier Hub has been growing steadily,” Russell said. There is a lot of demand from these two communities, she added, “but we know there are other underserved communities out there. Our plan is to move into one of those in next few years.

“If you look at poverty rates for children in Ottawa, the highest are around the Heron Gate area, Carlington and Bayshore.” These are the types of areas where Orkidstra will go to next, she said.

“We really want to be in these communities. It doesn’t work if the kids are too far from the hubs. It needs to be accessible, right there, a walk away or a bus ride away.”

In town: If you want to hear Jason and his musical friends play some great classical music, take in the free Vanier Hub Holiday Concert on Dec. 11 at 6 p.m. at the Rideau Community Hub, 815 St. Laurent Blvd. The Centretown Hub Holiday Concert is Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre, 355 Cooper St. For more information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.