08/16/2012 07:07 EDT | Updated 10/16/2012 05:12 EDT

Music Is My Church

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Music is life. Melody and song have been the golden threads woven into and through the fabric of my time on this earth. Its powerful energy runs through us all, underneath, like the ocean at times quiet and calm and then raucous and wild, joyous, or raging with fury mirroring all our many moods and helping us feel, hear and tell our stories.

Music is about connecting to ourselves, to each other, sharing, and being, for even a moment, part of something much bigger -- creating communities of like minds and spirits; allowing that weight we carry to feel a little lighter, for the joy we grasp to last a little longer and for the pain we all endure to be understood a little better. Music is my church.

As a child, I was insecure and didn't fit in and became a target. I was bullied and much of the time I was left to fend for myself so music became my saviour, my solace. It was the one thing I knew I was good at; it fed me and kept me going; it was a friend whenever I was in need. I truly don't know what I would have done without music in my life when I was growing up.

The studies regarding the far-reaching benefits of music are everywhere, citing improved test scores including math and science, better class attendance and day-to-day behavior. Yet, with all this data in front of us that clearly highlights the importance of music programs, both Canada and the United States are cutting access to music and the arts like never before. The headline of "Budget Cuts: No More Music" has played on for too long as those most affected are children with few resources and little to no access to alternatives.

I have been truly blessed in my life with the opportunities music has provided me and one of my ways of thanking the universe was to open the Sarah McLachlan School of Music. Our free after-school program provides underserved and at-risk children who have very little or no access to music. It's a program designed to build self-esteem and foster creativity through the power of song and sound. Students are taught in an environment of respect and equality.

This isn't American Idol-style where children compete against each other or only the most talented are accepted. We collaborate with local teachers and schools to identify children in Grades 4-12 who will most benefit by our program. No music experience is required. It's an amazing gift to see students develop a love of learning music and to watch their burgeoning pride as they begin to realize their potential. They believe in their talents, in their accomplishments, in themselves, and they're gaining the confidence to go after their dreams. I am thrilled to know that I'm able to offer something truly meaningful to this emerging generation.

For the first 9 years we were partnered with a wonderful arts organization, Vancouver's Arts Umbrella, and went through a few temporary spaces that never fully suited our needs. Then, with the impetus of a wonderful new space donated by the Wolverton Foundation that we could call our permanent home we decided to end the partnership and go out on our own.

We now have our own school to house and support our growing student base and outreach programs. We have found alternative methods of funding by sharing our story with others who share our vision as well as putting on a benefit concert "Voices in the Park" this September in Vancouver. Artists Stevie Nicks, Bryan Adams, Jann Arden, Hedley and more will join me to share what music means to them and we will be joined by the students of the Sarah McLachlan School of Music.

I know when I think about the immense gift music has been for me throughout my life and as I watch the excited students walk out on that stage filled with anticipation and promise it will serve as a reminder of why this program and arts education is so very important.