BY JULIA WHALEN TIMES & TRANSCRIPT STAFF
24 JUL 2012 08:12AM
In an age when recycling is encouraged and vintage is “in,” giving new life to tired, worn objects is a practice to be applauded.
And thanks to generous supporters of Sistema New Brunswick’s second annual instrument donation drive, 87 contributed treasures — including those in the string, wind and brass families — will be cherished once again by children in the after-school orchestral music program.
“Many of these instruments are decades old and now they are back in rotation, being used everyday...helping to change the life of a child,” said Craig Watson, Sistema NB’s new centre director.
A community outreach program of the internationally acclaimed New Brunswick Youth Orchestra, Sistema NB is a free, not-for-profit music program that fosters discipline, co-operation, confidence and hope for hundreds of young children who might otherwise never have the opportunity to play an instrument, let alone play in an orchestra.
The program put out a call in June to collect instrument donations for its ever-growing initiative, which has centres in both Moncton and Saint John and will expand to Richibucto in September.
Last year’s drive collected 65 instruments of all types and this year the program received 87 contributions, which were much needed to accommodate the growing number of participants. Watson said the increase in donations can be attributed to tremendous support from the community.
“It’s always great to move forward,” he said. “A large amount (of the instruments) are very much usable and will go to excellent use.”
The Moncton Sistema centre, located at Queen Elizabeth School, opened in 2009 with 50 children, all learning to play stringed instruments. Today the centre teaches 160 kids five days a week how to play all types of orchestral instruments including clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon and brass and percussion instruments.
A second Sistema centre opened in Saint John last year with 50 students to date at Hazen White St. Francis School.
Watson was recently added to the Sistema NB team as centre director, responsible for managing the program’s faculty. Born and raised in Riverview, Watson has a diverse background in music, education, program development and social change. He had been away from the area for years before coming home for this year’s East Coast Music Awards held in Moncton, and it was then he established a connection with Sistema NB.
He had been looking to move back to the East Coast for the right offer, he said. After a chat with NBYO president Ken MacLeod, Watson realized the program was a perfect fit.
“Certainly the draw for working with Sistema children is the whole philosophy for being able to help this demographic of kids,” he said. “It’s about going out there and making sure these kids have a program to come to.”
Watson moved back to the area on the first of June and will start fresh with the program in September.
Though he said he isn’t of an orchestral background, Watson became quite familiar with the East Coast music scene in his early days at Riverview High School when he started writing and playing music with good friend and guitarist Chris Colepaugh.
From there, he said, the pair got the “crazy notion” to form a band and after completing university, they reunited and began writing, recording and touring heavily under the name Chris Colepaugh and the Cosmic Crew. Watson graduated with a psychology degree from Bishop’s University in 1997 and did several North American tours with the band after graduation, both playing drums and songwriting.
He went on to study modern languages at the University of Toronto and then to Halifax to begin his master’s in Literacy Education at Mount Saint Vincent University. It was then he became interested in an organization called Grassroots Soccer in Zimbabwe, co-founded by Ethan Zohn, who was the $1 million grand prize winner of television reality show Survivor: Africa in 2002.
A former professional soccer player in Zimbabwe, Zohn provided start-up funds for the organization, which uses the power of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize communities to stop the spread of HIV.
“They brought me on the team in Zimbabwe and I worked right in the field delivering these programs for youth,” Watson said.
Watson said his experience working in Africa ignited his passion and will contribute directly to his work with Sistema NB. Instead of using music, Grassroots Soccer used sport to teach primarily under-served, at-risk youth in the same way that Sistema educates youth, he said.
Watson believed his skill set would enable him to do unconventional things with education and teaching, and that prompted him to finish his master’s “a little quicker” upon returning to Canada.
“I just saw the ability to do some unbelievable things in places other than in the classroom,” he said.
After completing his master’s degree Watson moved to Toronto to work with the Professional Golfers’ Association of Canada. As managing director of education and program development, he had an instrumental role in initiatives like the Teaching & Coaching Certification Program (TCCP) and the PACE program, designed to give standardized knowledge of the golf industry to Canadian PGA professionals and support their developing careers.
He headed PGA of Canada’s national coaching program and implemented a training program for Special Olympics coaches.
“One of my absolute favourite parts of the job was managing these incredible teachers and coaches,” Watson said.
“I had some incredible experiences with some unbelievable professors and teachers, and just witnessing what you’re able to do and the power education has is a huge draw for me. Somewhere I thought I could make a difference.”
He was attracted to Sistema NB because of its role in paving the way for the rest of the country, crediting MacLeod with bringing the Venezuelan program to Canada. Watson said since its beginnings in Moncton in 2009, Sistema has been adopted in both Toronto and Montreal.
He said Sistema NB has an excellent team of talented, professional musicians in place, and the Riverview native hopes to brings leadership to the faculty come September.