St James Music Academy

East Vancouver , BC


Contact Us To Support This Program

SJMA Children with Fred Penner - 2019 Strike A Chord Gala

Music makes me, ME!

The Music Therapy Program at Saint James Music Academy (SJMA) primarily involves regular one-on-one Music Therapy sessions (from 40 minutes to one hour long) in a dedicated private space, and occasionally in small group sessions. Through this program, children with learning differences, trauma or behavioural challenges discover music under the guidance of certified Music Therapists. Making music together increases human connection, relieves stress, regulates emotions, and leads to better brain development. Music Therapists at SJMA connect with many of the students through the Exploring Music program, which is an alternative stream to the Junior Program orchestral program. Children in this program benefit more either from one-on-one sessions or very small group sessions as compared to larger group sessions.


Children and youth ages 5-18 living in low income households (below LICO) in the DTES community and identified as ‘at-risk’ and who also face additional barriers, eg ADHD, FAS, trauma, ASD.

How does Music Therapy uniquely address the needs of clients in your program?

“In addition to providing classic Music Therapy sessions with students who they are scheduled to work with on a regular basis, our Music Therapists have a larger role to play. They spend time during our nutrition time getting to know many of the children in the program and helping us to identify children who may benefit from Music Therapy. In a spirit of collaboration, Music Therapists also occasionally visit music classes to connect with our teachers and observe the student they work with in group class settings. Sometimes they work towards particular goals identified by teachers or parents, such using Music Therapy to help a child overcome specific issues that will allow them to be able to better participate in group classes such as orchestra. But very often Music Therapy at SJMA is about providing children with a positive experience in music, so that they experience it as something beautiful that they are both suited to and that belongs to them! Our music therapists at SJMA also support Music Therapy students in the lead up to recital time. They set goals together and if participation in recitals is such a goal they help children prepare a music to share, and when appropriate, accompany them through the performance process. This support allows our Music Therapy students to share more fully in the wide range of musical experiences that SJMA students enjoy and benefit from.”

How has COVID-19 impacted the program?

SJMA closed on March 17th and has only reopened as of September 22nd. In the interim they transitioned to virtual learning, emergency food and hygiene relief to their families, and various alternative means of ‘staying connected.’ To accommodate on site education this year, massive adjustments have taken place, including scrupulous safety measures throughout, scheduling changes, reduced numbers, and blending on site education with virtual education.

Your support will sustain the 7.5 hrs per week that the music therapist is able to serve 20 clients in the SJMA music therapy program. After additional student assessments, and as Covid responses and protocols allow, SJMA is hoping to add group and one-on-one sessions as needed. It’s too premature at this time to forecast with any exactness, but “flexibility” is their new middle name!

*Cameron [name has been changed] comes to Saint James Music Academy with multiple barriers: His parents are very caring and hard-working people, but have limited resources due to being low income and living in market rental housing in Vancouver. The family has two sons, and Cameron is the eldest of the two boys. Cameron’s special needs include Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sotos Syndrome, and an auto-immune syndrome. Because of his Sotos Syndrome, he is taller than children his age, but cognitively delayed as compared to others, so he has sometimes faced judgment by of others who expect different behaviour from him (based on his looks), than he is capable of.

For Cameron the future holds many unknowns. He worries about entering high school in the Fall of 2020 and about being taunted or even facing violence there. He’s an extremely social person, but has little impulse control when it comes to engaging with others and craves both connection and attention. While in class with others, he is very distracted by his peers and has difficulty progressing musically. Having regular, dedicated time with a Music Therapist at SJMA has allowed Cameron to engage more deeply with music than he would otherwise be able to. The supportive guidance and trust-based therapeutic relationship with a Music Therapist has helped him to challenge himself, to try for longer / give up less quickly, which has been a real confidence-booster for him. During one concert, Cameron summoned the courage to play the piano in front of a big audience, and afterward, at the sound of resounding applause, warmed everyone’s hearts by sprinting off stage and down the hallway out of embarrassment! But he was all smiles afterwards and filled with the wonderful sense of accomplishment that comes from working hard and then being appreciated for his efforts! Music Therapy at SJMA has helped Cameron to come to identify himself as someone who is ‘into music’, which is a positive interest that he will be able to carry forward and share with others as he grows up.

Kristen Shin

Kristen Shin is an accredited music therapist working primarily in long-term care and dementia, end-of-life palliative care, and grief and bereavement. She works with clients from a variety of different ages and backgrounds, each with their own unique voice and story. In her work as a music therapist, Kristen has been privileged to witness how singing and music can unlock meaning, emotion, and healing in precious and unexpected ways.

You can help us reach more Canadians with the healing power of music. We invite you to give the gift of music to provide hope, strength, relief and encouragement to Canadians in need.

No contribution is too small!