I love to share my “Suzuki story” with teachers and families because it really does embody the “Every child can” spirit of the Suzuki Method. As a young child growing up in Elmhurst, IL, I began playing the clarinet in the 5th grade band program. During my last two years of high school, I had the opportunity to study with Jerome Stowell who was a clarinetist with the Chicago Symphony for 37 years! I knew from about the time of Jr. High School, that I wanted to be a music teacher when I grew up, but I had no idea what that would look like, other than to teach band in the public schools.
When I graduated from High School, I was recruited by Chris Izzo, the Chair of the Music Department at Western Illinois University. The Dean of the fine arts department had charged Mr. Izzo with creating the top wind ensemble in the country, and he was given a lot of scholarship money to do this. Full scholarship in hand, I headed to Macomb, Il.
I was very happy to be a music education major and was fortunate again to have an excellent clarinet instructor, George Townsend. While I was in Macomb, a new violin instructor came to the university to introduce the string majors to a new “revolutionary” way of teaching based on the work of a Japanese man named Shin’ichi Suzuki. I remember hearing Doris Preucil talk about the Suzuki Method and thinking that it sounded pretty interesting, but it wasn’t until I heard the students from her program in Iowa City give a concert that I knew that I had to find out more about this amazing method.
I remember that her 11 year old son Billy, (now the concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra) performed the Bach Chaconne like an artist, and all of her young students played better than the university string players.
When I approached Mrs. Preucil to see how I could learn more about teaching the Suzuki way, I expected her to shake her head and say that Suzuki was just for string players. Instead, she said to me “One day Suzuki will be for every instrument…and YOU’LL write the Clarinet books” and she took me by the hand and said come along to pedagogy class.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was going to need to start to play the violin if I was going to figure anything out about this method. In the process, I fell in love with the violin and instead of writing the “clarinet method for Suzuki” I ended up writing “Teaching from the Balance Point” which has since become a standard text used in teacher training courses around the globe. As a result of the success of this book, I have been invited to teach in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, France, England, Denmark, Peru, Mexico, Canada and Brazil.
When I first started teaching in Western Springs in January of 1980, I had a lot to learn. But what I enjoyed most about teaching in this method was the willingness of everyone involved in Suzuki to share their ideas freely. Every summer for years, I would go to Stevens Point, Wisconsin with my students and observe them being taught by the master teacher faculty there. I learned so many things about how to improve my teaching, and every fall, we would come back to the studio and say, “well, this year, we are going to try teaching the bow hand this way!”
After several years attending the institute as a “teacher in training” I was invited to teach on the faculty. And I continued to teach there for the next 25 years. When I was invited by the Suzuki Association of the Americas to become a Teacher Trainer, my role at all of the institutes I was teaching at changed from working with children to working with teachers. Of all the many hats that I wear today, including Director of our schools, Director of Allegro!!!, writing articles and books, presenting at conferences, arranging tours for Consort, still my favorite is when I get to teach a class of teachers.
Most recently, I spent the month of January teaching at two festivals in Latin America. The Peruvian Suzuki Festival which is in its 32nd year, and also a course at the Bacarelli Institute in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
In Lima, I met a very eclectic group of teachers. Their playing ranged from some very experienced conservatory trained orchestra players to some who were self taught. Some were hearing about teaching Suzuki Method for the first time, others were repeating their Suzuki Book one training for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and even 5th time! Among the teachers in the group were two violinists from Cuba. Jana Perdigon Mila and Cecilia Rosales Prieto. This was the first time that anyone from Cuba was receiving Suzuki Teacher training on any instrument. I was so honored to be able to work with these two women...especially as the Chicago Consort had so recently toured and performed in Cuba.
After the Lima Festival, I traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil to continue the teacher training there with a Book 4 course. Six years ago, the only Violin Teacher Trainer from Brazil, Shinobu Saito, invited me to come to give a Book One course. When Shinobu asked me to come, she said “I’m not just asking you to come and teach one course. I am asking you to come and be the trainer for Brazil so that every teacher in Brazil will have the benefit of your instruction." This was quite a big commitment, but after the first course, I fell in love with the Brazilian teachers and have been going back every year since.
In my book, Teaching from the Balance Point, I put forth a set of Priorities for teaching which includes: Posture, Tone, Intonation, Musicality and Learning notes and bowings to new pieces. In the very first course that I taught in Brazil, a young teacher named Jose Marcio Galvao took this approach very seriously. Jose Marcio teaches in a program called The Baccarelli Institute. The Baccarelli Institute is a non-profit organization providing music education designed to promote artistic training and social integration, the Baccarelli Institute serves over 1,000 children and young people annually through its socio-cultural programs, based on excellence in teaching, contributing to the personal development and the creation of opportunities for professionalization in the field of erudite music.
After several years of teaching the Suzuki Method with the emphasis on the teaching priorities, the administration of the Institute felt that the results Jose Marcio was getting were so amazing, that they have switched all of their beginning string students to this approach. It is an honor to continue to work with the amazing faculty at this program to continue to help them develop their skills in teaching the Suzuki Method.
I am proud to say that this Spring at the Suzuki Association of the Americas Biennial Conference, Jose Marcio Galvao and I will give a presentation on the work that we are doing together at the Baccarelli Institute in Sao Paulo.
For the parents and students and teachers at our Western Springs and Naperville schools - you can't imagine what a wonderful example you are being for students and teachers around the world. Teachers watch the videos of our Orchestra Hall concerts and cannot grasp that this is all happening at one school. Our own commitment to maintaining these priorities in our teaching and our standard of excellence has inspired hundreds of other teachers and their students around the globe. We are all a part of something much bigger than we will ever know.