The Kenneth G. Mills Foundation has been sponsoring the efforts of Sistema Toronto for several years and recently offered Sistema’s young choristers the opportunity of learning “Melody for the World,” words and music by Kenneth G. Mills. Piano accompaniment was arranged by Marshall Olchowy, a Toronto musician and music teacher. Under the direction of choral teacher and keyboard player Edouardo Sola, the students of the Sistema Toronto centre at St. Martin de Porres Catholic School in Scarborough performed the song, and the event was filmed and posted on Facebook. Click here to watch: https://www.facebook.com/sistematoronto/videos/1916377918392686/
Per its website, Sistema Toronto “provides musical and intellectual opportunities to children in vulnerable communities, with the end goal of transformative social change. [It builds] stronger communities by enabling at-risk children to overcome poverty, grow, and thrive as engaged citizens and future leaders.” This social development program uses “ensemble-based music education to transform the lives of at-risk children. Sistema Toronto students work together for 10 hours of weekly instruction. They learn strings (violin, viola, cello, or double bass), percussion, choir and Music & Movement while developing important life skills like problem solving, empathy, and self-advocacy.”
El Sistema originated in Venezuela as a publicly financed voluntary sector music education program, founded in 1975 by Venezuelan educator, musician, and activist José Antonio Abreu (who died on March 24, 2018). Programs based on this idea exist throughout Canada. Sistema Toronto was founded in 2011 and has four centres in the Greater Toronto Area, with an enrollment of 240 children aged 6–13.
The impetus for “Melody for the World” came about during a conversation that Kenneth Mills had with the American pop singer Melissa Manchester. She proposed that he “compose a melody that could be sung by anyone, anywhere in the world. We both agreed that music has the power to unify people and that this melody should be written” (The Candy Maker’s Son: The Memoirs of Kenneth G. Mills). The initial melody was sung by the maestro during a drive across the Mojave Desert, and “those hummable, singable, dozen or so notes later became ‘Melody for the World.’”
In 1991, while Maestro Mills and the Star-Scape Singers were visiting the Children’s Hospital in Moscow, he taught “Melody for the World” to the young people gathered in its auditorium. They ranged in age from five years old to twenty-two; some were recuperating, and others were terminally ill. Dr. Mills recalled in his memoirs: “When we were about to leave, the director of the hospital came to me and said, ‘Maestro, I want you to know that your visit here has done more for the children in these few minutes than we have accomplished in the entire year.’”
Watch the Star-Scape Singers perform “Melody for the World” with an audience in Riga, Latvia: