Our Roots

Saint James Music Academy (SJMA) is a community-based after school program providing high quality classical music education to children living in and around Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.  Through our orchestras, choirs, music therapy programs, and so much more, students from grade 2 to grade 12 experience the joys and challenges of learning music together – and of playing an important part in something beautiful that is larger than themselves.

The story of SJMA began with one person determined to give children a better chance in life. When cuts to public school funding meant that Vancouver’s inner-city children had limited or no access to quality music education, long-time Downtown Eastside area resident Kathryn Walker decided to do something about it. She began a two-year process of building alliances and support in the community for a music academy that would not only teach music but use music as a means of reversing the negative social forces that neighbourhood children commonly face. SJMA opened its doors in September, 2007 with 45 enrollments and a budget of $37,000. Since then, the Academy has grown rapidly each year, touching the lives of many hundreds of children.

Founded during an economic recession, the story of the Saint James Music Academy is one of adaptability and resilience.

In the Spring of 2020, along with the rest of the world, SJMA was left reeling from our forced closure due to the COVID19 pandemic.  With fortitude and cooperation, our teachers, parents, staff and supporters pulled together to keep our students connected to music, and bridging always towards a brighter future.

With the return of concerts and public events, we are overjoyed to be able to provide one of the most important aspects of music education to our students. 

Some notable events throughout the years include: 

2012   Music Therapy Program Added

2015   The fifth and final Sing it Forward Benefit Concert draws almost 1,000 attendees.

2018   SJMA featured at the 2018 Juno Awards.

2019   The SJMA Orchestra performed at the Orpheum Theatre by invitation of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s School of Music


2019   Performance with Fred Penner at the Commodore Ballroom by invitation of our music therapy program supporters Music Heals Charitable.


2023  Return of our annual Fluevog Shoes Benefit Concert

2023  Jill Barber visited and rehearsed with SJMA students

2023  Joint performance with the Vancouver Welsh Men’s Choir 

At its heart, SJMA remains the grassroots community organization of our founding fourteen years ago.  Through the success of many people coming together: teachers and volunteers, parents and staff, and a wide network of donors and friends, the children continue to grow and learn, transforming our own hearts in the process.

A Letter from
our founder,
KAThryn Walker

Kathryn Walker and Sarah Godoy smiling

Kathryn Walker and Sarah Godoy

September 11 2020

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

As I approach the final weeks of a year-long sabbatical I feel grateful for the time I have enjoyed to rest, spend more time with my family, and reflect on my 13 years at Saint James Music Academy as founder and Executive Director. What a tremendous privilege it has been to serve the children and families in my neighbourhood through the creative and challenging work of building our community through music. Never could I have imagined all that SJMA would accomplish, but given the dedication of our kids and the generosity of so many donors, partners, teachers, staff and volunteers, I should hardly be surprised.

As this new season begins for SJMA, and after much consideration, I have decided it is time for new leadership and energy to guide our organization forward. It is my great pleasure and honour, and with the full support of the Saint James Music Academy board of Directors, to pass the torch to Sarah Godoy. Sarah has already served as interim Executive Director since my sabbatical began. I have known and worked with Sarah for many years and know her to be a person of high integrity with an unshakeable work ethic.  With Sarah at the helm, and with the gifted leadership of our Music Director Jose Ceron-Ortega and our devoted staff and volunteers, I am confident this work for social change through music will continue to be a bright light of opportunity for children and youth in our city.

I thank each and every one of you for your generosity, passion and energy in this labour of love.  It has been a joy to work with you all. Although I have been stretched and challenged greatly in the work, I have received so much more in return through both the transformative power of music and through the friendships that have been forged. My support for the work of SJMA will continue so I look forward to seeing you soon at upcoming events.

In gratitude,
Kathryn Walker