The second half of the ILIA weekend went off with without a hitch on March 18-19. Our cellists were joined by the Preucil School (Iowa City) cellists for a weekend of cello playing.
Our guest teachers Laura Shaw and Kate Vos from Iowa, plus Alex Revoal and Sally Gross worked with the students on Saturday. It was a day full of music, food and friendship.
Many years ago the Guelph Suzuki cello program (Sally Gross) and the Cleveland Institute of Music cello program (Carol Tarr) began an exchange program for younger students that continued for years. In fact, 30 years later many families remain in touch. I really wanted that experience for the younger cellists in the Western Springs School of Talent Education and the Naperville Suzuki School, so my colleague, Alex Revoal and myself, contacted Laura Shaw and Kate Vos from the Preucil School of Music in Iowa City. Our programs are very similar in numbers and playing levels, so we were a good fit, and are only a three hours drive away from each other. The idea of promoting community between our two programs and providing students with a unique learning opportunity was very compelling.
One of the things we loved about the ILIA exchange was the chance for children to get to know each other. Both schools have a fairly large program, but many of the kids don’t have the opportunity to go to Institutes or see other Suzuki programs. Many of them don’t realize that there are other kids their age doing what they are doing all over the country. It also gave them a taste of what an Institute would be like, but for a very low price. Some of those children may be convinced to do Institutes in the summer based on their experience. Others who might find an Institute to be cost-prohibitive received a similar opportunity.
Parents loved the exchange because of the low cost and the friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Amy Redhage, a violin Suzuki teacher and now a cello Suzuki parent from IA, said that it “helped her ‘group-reluctant‘ cellist enjoy being with other musicians and have a special cello-only time with Mom.” Other parents enjoyed getting to know not only their peers from the other program, but also fellow parents from their own program that they may not have had a chance to get to know before the exchange. As teachers, we loved that our kids got to experience a group activity with another amazing program, and the chance for us to collaborate with other Suzuki teachers.
An unintended side effect of the exchange was the opportunity to see other teachers teach. Even within our own programs, we hardly ever observe each other teaching group class. This program allowed us as teachers to see other amazing teachers work with a group. Again, many of us go to Institutes in the summer, but many of us do not. This was such a wonderful way for the teachers to get inspired by watching the wonderful things that other teachers are doing in their studios. Teachers co-taught the group classes.
We decided to have the weekend in Iowa at the end of October, and the weekend in Chicago during the spring. This would let us do more outside activities in Iowa, and indoor activities in the big city when the weather was more unpredictable. We wanted to give the kids a taste of the rural side of Iowa, so we planned our concert at a local Pumpkin Patch. The kids could perform, but could also take part in the many activities that the Pumpkin Patch provided. And best of all, the Pumpkin Patch brought out hay bales for our cellists to sit on while they performed. Luckily, the day was beautiful, and much warmer than usual for late October in Iowa.
We planned our concert in Illinois at the Chicago Children’s Museum on Navy Pier in the city. It was packed with people that beautiful weekend. The Iowans had a good taste of city parking. The kids had a great time enjoying the museum before and after the concert, and many of the Iowa kids got a chance to explore the city as well.
We decided to have all of our group classes on Saturday of the weekend, and the concert on Sunday. We thought families might enjoy having some time on their own to explore both areas, and we wanted everyone to be fresh for the concert. In the morning, we divided up our group classes by level, and had two sessions each. This allowed us to rotate the 4 teachers throughout the groups, and meant that at all times, 2 of us were teaching and 2 were observing or helping out with the classes. We had a Book 1-2 class, and a Book 3-5 class. In the afternoon, we had two sessions with a break in the middle, but combined the groups together to prepare for the concert.
The students had a wonderful time both in Iowa and in Chicago. Everyone we talked to said that they would do it again. From a teacher’s perspective, it was such a successful experiment, and could be easily replicated in other programs around the country. Building community and playing together are key Suzuki concepts, and the ILIA Cello Exchange was a fabulous way to explore them.