Building a talent trust

Bob Egan

A recent study by the Information and Communications Technology Council touted the benefits of music education for youth, the technology sector and economic health of cities.

The skills developed by learning and playing music with others are the same skills in demand in the new technology economy. That is no surprise to Kari Kokko, director of the Community Music School of Waterloo Region (CMSWR).

“With our students, we see many benefits: improvements in self-expression, self-confidence and relationship building for a start,” she explained. “Learning music is a very positive peer pressure experience — it is validated as being cool by the other youth. Once that happens, the door is open to all manner of learning and growth.”

Just over a year ago, Kokko founded the CMSWR as a program of the Lyrical Lines Education Network to serve youth who would not otherwise have access to formal music education. In that short time she has built a team of 14 teachers and seven volunteers to serve the current student body of 44 students.

“The CMSWR brings together the strengths of this community. Our students are referred by local community service organizations and a high percentage of our teachers are university students,” said Kokko. “Students bring passion and drive and that gets the teachers inspired. Students win, teachers win and ultimately the community wins.”

Kokko, a Kitchener-Waterloo local, left the region for a few years to study at York University and work in theatre production. Upon returning to KW, she worked at the Working Centre and earned her bachelor of music education at Wilfrid Laurier University. During this time she observed small-scale community music programs and the benefits they provided to individuals and the community.

Kokko’s idea to start a community music school sprouted as she was pursuing her master in social work at Laurier.

Why would someone in the middle of the time-consuming grind of earning a master’s degree decide to start a not-for-profit company?

“I saw the need and saw some momentum; the opportunity spoke to me, and it would have been harder to resist it than to accept it.”

This momentum came from Bill Labron and Lynn McRuer, co-founders of the Lyric Lines Education Network. The momentum has continued with numerous partnering organizations and volunteers.

Enriching the lives of youth who would not otherwise have the opportunity to experience music is Kokko’s passion and we as a community are better for that.

To get involved with CMSWR email Kokko at