SJMA provides classical music education to at-risk children and youth, and the music does its magic. The children engage. They discover the deep riches of their own potential and find new self-esteem. They learn about the beauty and the necessity of collaboration with others. They improve their intellectual and other skills. They learn to overcome barriers they did not make. They become inspired to be all they are meant to be. Located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, SJMA brings social transformation to the community and beyond.

Why Music?


Music is a language that everyone speaks.
Music is a joy that everyone feels.
Music is a doorway to a better world.

Music is our means to grow the children into their full human capacity. Music not only brings joy and enriches culturally, it is also proven to strengthen intellectual and fine motor skills, build self-esteem, and promote positive social skills, such as the importance of learning to work together to a common goal. Our mission is to equip children – often against the negative social forces around them – to make a better future for themselves and others. Through their pursuit of musical excellence, the children in our program are inspired to continue on a path of promise.

Our Community

The DTES neighbourhood is one of strength, cohesion, and hope. Often typecast as a community suffering from high unemployment, poverty and substance abuse, to live and work here is to experience it differently. The children in particular remind us that our community is in many ways just as any other, where the hunger to learn and grow, to belong, to experience wonder, and to rise to succeed are equally evident. While most of our students live in the DTES, we welcome children from other areas of our city who we know would benefit by our program.


To be a student at SJMA is to be a child in progress. Regardless of where your child begins, with us your child will embark on a path that leads to excellence in both music and in life. Working together with parents, dedicated staff, and professional music educators, your child will discover the wealth of their own potential.

SJMA is free to all low-income families. Space is limited and your commitment is essential. If you or someone you know is interested in enrolling a child at our academy please apply today.

Years of Excellence

Students Enrolled

Give the Gift of Music

Our work would not exist without your compassion and generosity. We hope that you will engage us with the gift that is YOU. Please arrange to visit the Academy sometime, or attend one of our semi-annual concerts. Let’s stay connected, and together make a difference in our world. Thank you for supporting Saint James Music Academy.

Our Approach

El Sistema

SJMA is Canada’s first ever El Sistema inspired program. El Sistema is a music movement that first began as a modest program to introduce the wonders of music to children living in and around the poor districts of Caracas, Venezuela. Since then El Sistema has become a worldwide phenomenon, today teaching over half a million children. SJMA employs the five principles of El Sistema, some of which are a departure from traditional methods of music education.

Increasing Access

  • Long term participation in our program from grades 2 to 12
  • A faculty of highly trained music teachers
  • Transportation to and from school based on family need
  • Safe after school care in a creative learning environment
  • Nutritious light meal at the start of each afternoon
  • A musical instrument to all students at no charge
  • Invitations to attend symphonies, concerts and special events
  • Public performance opportunities
  • Free to all low income families

Our Community Partners

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