Is your child – or are you – thinking about learning to play a musical instrument? Apart from the cost of lessons, you could be looking at a significant outlay for the instrument itself. That’s why before you buy little Wolfgang that keyboard, a trial run might be a good idea.

Now you can borrow a guitar like you can borrow a book. An innovative, free program is putting musical instruments into the hands of would-be and seasoned musicians alike – through public libraries in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

The Sun Life Financial Musical Instrument Lending Library allows holders of a valid library card in those cities to borrow instruments such as guitars, violins, bongos, trombones and portable keyboards from 8 branches in Montreal and one each (so far) in Vancouver and Toronto. It’s the first program of its kind in a public library in any of the 3 cities, and is part of Sun Life’s award-winning Making the Arts More AccessibleTM program.

Along with providing the funds to establish the programs, Sun Life has donated 100 instruments with accessories to each library. As well, the company has sponsored instrument donation drives in each city and has created a special series of short videos about the use, care and enjoyment of the instruments. These are available, along with program details, on the Vancouver Public Library and Toronto Public Library websites.

The Canadian music scene has greeted the project enthusiastically. The Toronto program launched in April 2016 with the aid of musicians Raine Maida and Chantal Kreviazuk, who themselves donated a guitar and a keyboard. In Vancouver, Jacob Hoggard and Tommy Mac of Hedley helped kick off the project in June, while in Montreal, Jeff Stinco, Sébastien Lefebvre and Chuck Comeau of Simple Plan were on hand for the launch this month.

“We’re thrilled to be sponsoring this national program, helping to connect communities with the power of music,” said Paul Joliat, Assistant Vice-President, Philanthropy and Sponsorships, Sun Life Financial. “We know first-hand the positive impact music can have on people's lives, letting them explore their creative side while developing new skills.”

“Well rooted in the community, the Montréal Public Libraries have become dynamic, visionary and innovative key-players largely contributing to Montréal’s cultural vitality. We are delighted to partner with Sun Life Financial to help Montréalers discover the wonderful world of music through this innovative service. In addition to expanding and diversifying the Montréal Public Libraries’ musical collection, this program squarely fits the new Montréal Child Policy initiative and is part of the 5-axle intervention plan covering access to culture, sports and leisure,” said Denis Coderre, Mayor of Montréal.

Coderre’s sentiment was echoed across the country.

“We're so pleased that we can connect music lovers and learners to instruments at the library, thanks to Sun Life Financial's generous philanthropic donation,” said Vickery Bowles, City Librarian at the Toronto Public Library. “We know how much music enriches life, but many Torontonians don't have ready access to musical instruments for financial reasons. Programs such as this one break down those barriers and connect people to wonderful opportunities. I'm looking forward to hearing stories of the music that people will be making thanks to the Sun Life Financial Musical Instrument Lending Library.”

“Music is such an important form of cultural and artistic expression – we're delighted to be part of supporting the creativity of Vancouver residents by making musical instruments more accessible,” said Sandra Singh, Chief Librarian at the Vancouver Public Library. “Thanks to the generosity of Sun Life, we're able to open more doors for Vancouverites to play and experience music – and in doing so, connect more people to the love of music.”