What Is Yona? 

The Program

Youth Orchestra of Northern Alberta - Sistema (YONA-Sistema) is a program offered by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.  This program is modeled on the ground-breaking El Sistema project in Venezuela which uses music for social change and teaches the values of unity, harmony, and mutual compassion.

Five days a week, for almost three hours each day, 75 students receive group instrument lessons, led by qualified teachers, at no cost to their families. In this caring environment, students are given nutritious snacks, homework help, and engage in free play and physical activity, and are then bussed safely home.

Each year, another group of students participates in a "YONA Explorers" program, building their musical and social skills in an introduction to the YONA philosophy before joining the full 5-day-per-week program.


YONA-Sistema encourages excellence and accountability in participants through daily intensive instruction. Daily program activities include singing, musicianship, music instruction, nutrition, academic time, and free play time. Less frequent program activities include expressive arts time, fiddling / drumming workshops, visits from ESO musician ambassadors, and musical show-and-tell.


Why Music

Time and time again, music education has been shown to affect brain development, social and emotional capacities, and countless other skills and abilities. Music brings people together and gives them a sense of belonging, an outcome that has been reported by the families of YONA students since the program’s inception.

YONA is unique among both after-school and music programs in that it aims to provide not just general programming or music education.  Instead, YONA provides holistic care for all students, encompassing nutrition, free play, academic support, interpersonal skill support, and expressive arts education alongside daily music instruction during the “critical” after-school hours.

Our vision is to kindle long-term positive change in Edmonton’s marginalized populations and communities by engaging the region’s under-served youth in music education.