St James Music Academy

East Vancouver , BC

Partially adopted by our
generous donors

SJMA Children with Fred Penner - 2019 Strike A Chord Gala

“This year more than ever, our Music Therapists have been absolutely essential in helping us to support our students through the many stresses of the pandemic; Access to safe, beautiful experiences with music in a therapeutic setting has made a tremendous difference in the lives of our most vulnerable students.”

Sarah Cobb

Executive director

The music therapy program at St James Music Academy provides support to at-risk children and youth living in the downtown east side of Vancouver. The financial support from Music Heals allows the music therapist to engage in 1:1 sessions with children who require more personalized support than group classes can offer. The music therapist is better able to create an individualized session plan that fits the unique needs of each child. Children who access the music therapy program may have had experiences with trauma, mental health challenges such as depression or anxiety, behavioural issues, or diagnoses such as ASD, ADHD, or FAS, among others. Through the Exploring Music program, they can be supported in expressing and processing some of these challenges with songwriting, improvisation, or specially adapted music lessons. The music therapy program also offers the opportunity for children to form positive attachments, and to engage in success-oriented experiences that can help to develop a positive sense of self worth. Approximately 20 children were served in the music therapy program this year.


The music therapy program at St James Music Academy serves at-risk children and youth between the ages of 7-18 living primarily in the Downtown Eastside area of Vancouver. Most come from low income families, and many live in social housing or are precariously housed in an unstable rental market. Some have experienced trauma, loss of a close family member, or have a developmental disability. Some of the children are in foster care, or are recent arrivals to Canada as refugees.

The majority of the students live in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) Oppenheimer district. The remainder live in Strathcona, Hastings Sunrise, or Grandview-Woodlands.



From St James Academy:

“The effects of pandemic on certain of our children have heightened their need for compassionate and professional guidance. As such, music therapy played an even more vital role this last year than in previous years. Music Heals graciously provided financial support to our program which allowed us to provide services without interruption.

Navigating the Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic

“The stressful circumstances of pandemic, (increased social isolation, disruption of routine, etc.) were challenging. However, because our music therapy program was already structured to imply individual sessions, the implementation of Covid protocols did not cause changes or even interruptions to the program. For some children, continuation of service required increasing certain supports, e.g: transportation to and from our program, due to Covid-related stresses and pressures in the family home.”

Adopting this program will expand services to more at-risk children and youth in the Downtown Eastside. St James has observed that the needs of the population currently exceed their capacity for music therapy services. In order to address this, they plan to hire an additional music therapist and supervise a music therapy intern.

Olivia is a student who has been connected to SJMA for a number of years but was not thriving in the achievement based music program. She was not able to participate fully in her instrument classes because she was behind her peers and would often be lost when playing with them. Olivia has experienced a tumultuous home situation, and she would often describe needing to care for her younger sibling, meaning she was neither attending school nor doing school work at home. Olivia also had musical preferences that were quite dark. And of course, while using music to express ourselves is very personal, Music Therapist Kirsten wanted to offer the opportunity to explore more uplifting, hopeful and empowering themes. When she went to music therapy, she would arrive at class withdrawn and detached. It would take a lot of time to engage and connect, often using up to half of the class to start an activity or interaction.

As the connection grew, Music Therapist Kirsten was able to pull Olivia out of her shell using improvisation and exploration to build a connection and relationship. The music therapist was aware that Olivia loved to sing and after months of offering, Olivia finally accepted the invitation to sing, and she did so with joy, freedom and abandon. After that pivotal moment in the spring, she has been eager to sing, open to the music suggested by Kirsten and focused on musical themes that are uplifting and empowering. Olivia became much more adept at expressing her emotions, sharing her enjoyment of attending SJMA and the relationships with staff, as well as processing her own experiences of school, life transitions, and her own growth and development. At the end of the year Olivia was also more calm, open to communicating with those around her, and happy to participate in the activities offered in music therapy. She is a true overcomer and her story is one of triumph. Her development will only grow as Olivia returns to the SJMA program to the many staff, teachers and music therapists who support her.

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.

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