Archive for the ‘suzuki music’ Category

“Breaking up is hard to do”.  There are many ways we “break up” with people: a romantic relation gone awry, close friends moving mile apart, saying “see you later” to parents when leaving to go to college, and saying goodbye to friends when leaving college after a degree has been achieved.

As a piano teacher I might say goodbye to a student when he decides to quit lessons, or  fire a student for not meeting expectations.  But I am approaching that  bitter/sweet situation where it might be time for a student to move on to another teacher to further his music potential.  When exactly is it time to say goodbye to a student?

Students come and go.  Most are of average ability, interest, and dedication.  But once in a while a teacher is blessed with someone who is extraordinary.  That is the gift  in which I have been blessed with my student “O” (o for outstanding).  O came to me because he decided he wanted to go into music to be a band teacher and thought having a piano background was a good idea.  In the very short time we have been together he has soared.  Now a sophomore in high school, his ability could competitively get him into university as a piano major.  He is completely delightful!  He incorporates new ideas easily, takes instruction seriously and practices so much that his mother has to tell him to stop and do other things.  He has a great sense of humor and a loving manner.  Basically, he is any teacher’s dream.

O has 3 more years of high school and will definitely go to college for music.  As much as I would like to be selfish and teach him until college,  there is part of me that knows he should now study with a preparatory teacher such as a university professor or professional performer.  So when is it a good time to “fire” a good student?

We have so much fun together during lessons.  Even so, I know as a teacher I have to do what is best for the student.  I have talked with O and his family about moving on.  When I first bought up the idea of O finding another teacher he and his family were adamant; they did not want to leave my studio.  A year later, I brought up the topic again. They are now understanding and listening. After doing some master classes with other teachers, O’s parents are beginning to see my point . But O does not want to go to another teacher quite yet. As a compromise, we have decided to take small steps in that direction.  For this year we are going to try a cooperative method.  O will still come for lessons weekly with me but will also take a lesson or two per month with a university teacher.  The other teacher and I have conversed and worked out a few details.  Everyone is on board to make this experience the best we are able for O.  We enter the year with respect for each other, keeping O’s best interest in the foreground.  O has agreed to the the idea but firmly states that he will stay in my studio until graduation from high school (In fact, he also said he would rather quit piano than change teachers.  haha)

It’s hard to say goodbye to a good student.  I guess it’s hard for a student to say good bye to a teacher as well.  I know that at some point O will be saying goodbye to me because he will see that the new teacher has much to offer .  To be honest,  I will be sad when this happens.  But I will also be gratified in knowing I gave it my all and sent a student soaring to reach higher goals. Once again my thesis holds true.  Piano lessons are much more than music.


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With great sadness I write that the Suzuki institute in Kingston, Ontario Canada has come to a close.  For over 30 years it has provided children and their families a loving, caring haven where students, teachers and parents shared music and much, much more.

I received a letter and phone call with the news about 3 months ago.  Although I saw it coming, I did not want to believe.  I called one of my colleagues to commiserate but other than that, I could not talk or write about it.  Within the week letters from the other teachers started pouring in.  I even got 2 calls from families I had taught asking if it was really true.  Still, I was in denial .  I really expected a phone call saying that a savior had been found and the institute would continue.  But as hard as it was, I knew it was time.

Thanks to two extraordinary faculty members and many other volunteers, the institute pulled off a successful program last summer following the retirement of Carole Bigler and Valery Lloyd Watts.  Carole and Valery, the founders all those years back created a unique experience for families who attended.  Each teacher, hand picked from all over the U.S. and Canada,  created a diverse, cohesive curriculum bringing each child the best of the best.  We shared a common philosophy of education.  In all the places I have taught  I have never experienced the level of respect nor mastery as I had with this faculty.  I often joked that it was the Brigadoon of education.

In many ways  the institute formed who I am as a teacher and continues to remind me of who I want to be as a human being.  Obviously, our goal was to share music.  But what made the experience unique was that an even larger goal was to share love.  The success was that simple.  Each teacher demonstrated unbridled enthusiasm in and out of class.  Hugs to parents and children were constant.  Each lesson was steeped with creativity and laughter.  And as a faculty, we viewed each other’s talents in awe.  We worked together and played together and loved every minute.  The aura was contagious.  The children and families showed respect to each other, worked hard and applauded each other’s accomplishments.

Many educators and students never have such an opportunity.  I consider myself blessed.  To those who have attended the Kingston institute, I am sure you share my sentiments.  I will cherish the memories all my life.  I will also aim to be the best teacher I can possibly be.  Even more than that, I hope to aim to be the best person I can be in life.  So often when situations arise I think of what my colleagues would do.

All good things must come to and end.  This is a very sad ending.  But the faculty, families and memories will always have a special place in my heart.

What next?  I sincerely hope that the children who attended the institute will find other venues and continue in their musical journey.  As for me, I will continue to work hard for the children in my elementary school and my private piano studio.  I hope that I will be invited as a clinician for other institutes ( I will be in Virginia in March).  As for my colleagues, please know how much I value you.  May our paths cross again…

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cimg45361This week I have lost a friend, a mentor, the person who has influenced me professionally and personally. With great sadness, I write of the loss of Carole Bigler. I know I am not alone in feeling this deep emptiness; although petite in stature , her charismatic smile left everyone she met with the feeling of intimacy.

Carole’s musical talent coupled with her genuine warmth and sharp wit lead her to be one of the most sought after individuals. She was pure magic with children and adults. Carole had this unique way of making a person feel like he was smart, beautiful, talented, special. But the talent she possessed most of all was the ability to build one’s self esteem; she gave each person she met the gift of self confidence. Carole taught me to believe in myself.

I met Carole 19 years ago. I was a young teacher and mother, insecure in most aspects of my life. More than anything, I wanted to be the best teacher and mother I could be. The moment I met Carole she began working her magic and I knew I was in the presence of a very special person. She was warm, generous with her compliments and intimate in her approach. I longed to get to know her and follow in her shoes. Her magnetism was bigger than life, all 90 pounds of her!

As I hoped, our friendship blossomed. A few years later, she called to invite me to be on the faculty at the Kingston Suzuki music institute. I was shocked and speechless. I asked her a million questions but the one I asked over and over was why did she choose me? I saw myself as just a small town music teacher doing my j0b, nothing out of the ordinary. She saw potential, and agreed to provide support and love. In years that followed I found that this was the way Carole worked. She believed in me. It’s that pure and simple. Because she believed in me, I began to believe in myself. As I grew she gave me more teaching responsibility along with her constant support. I grew as a teacher and as a person.

Anyone who has had the privilege of being with Carole has their special story. I have had the privileges of watching her teach, being her student, listening to her lecture, and belly laughing at her silliness. I know her quirks and have shared heart to heart conversations with her.

My family and I have also been blessed in sharing the story of “the miracle of the snow” with Carole and her delightful husband Bill. Like I said, I am sure that everyone has their special Carole story.
But mine involves a miracle with a miraculous teacher. Here’s my story:

While teaching together one summer Carole and I discovered that we had both planned to be in Rome at the same time. We shared details and planned to meet for dinner one of the nights. The thought of having dinner with Carole Bigler was a thrill in itself, but to think that it would be in Italy was much more excitement than I could possibly contain.

The day was August 5th. In typical tourist style, our family had a full day scheduled. We decided to begin with Mass at the cathedral near our hotel. We arrived five minutes before it was supposed to begin, true Catholic protocol. It wasn’t very full, but we attributed that to the the enormity of the edifice. On schedule a Mass began, but not in the main altar. We could hear it going on in one of the side altars. However, as we sat there more and more people were entering the church. Not understanding Italian very much, we decided that we must have misunderstood the timing and that the Mass on the main altar was yet to come. So we waited. Within the half hour the church filled to the brim and Mass began. A major procession began with priests, bishops, and all sorts of clergy and altar boys. Music resounded from every part of the altar. We had a hunch we had stumbled onto something big.

Somewhere in the middle of the Mass a spot light pointed to the ceiling and an enormous gold panel opened. Millions of white rose pedals came drifting through the panel onto the altar where priests were sitting in all their pageantry. It was like a big feather pillow exploding! This lasted for 10 minutes! We had no idea what was going on. At the end of the very royal and celebratory Mass, the congregation made a dash to the altar and collected the pedals.

We left having no idea what had happened. When we arrived back to the hotel we told the desk clerk . He then shared the legend of the village: In 358 dc the people of Rome prayed where to build a church. They decided that they would build one where it snowed in August. The church we attended that morning was the church that was built all those years ago. To celebrate, every 5th of August there is a special Mass there; the rose pedals symbolized the snow. It was an awesome sight!

We were to meet Carole and Bill the same evening and could not wait to share our story with them. We had a lovely dinner on this warm evening at a side walk cafe. As with all Italian dinners, the food was tasty, the wine flowing and the ambiance warm and sweet. Conversation with the Biglers was everything I thought it would be. Both Carole and Bill were great with our kids. They had the kids engaged with their stories, prompted them to talk about their lives, and of course, made them laugh.

At the end of the meal we heard music coming from the cathedral. We decided that we girls would go to the church to see what was going on and the guys would stay, pay the bill and meet us there. As we climbed the cathedral steps police stepped in front of us and assembled official yellow tape so that people would not get closer. There were a few others who bellied up to the tape along with us. For the second time that day we had no idea what was going on and this time we were in the front row. The music continued as the area began swarming with people. News reporters were there, one giving out posters. My son, being small and lively, was given a poster. It was in celebration of the snow miracle (the photo above is of our poster). Now crowds of people lined the side streets spewing in angles from the church. The sun was setting, the music playing, people a buzz; it was going to snow! Somehow we realized this along the way, but we didn’t quite know how or where. After all, it was about 90 degrees.

Suddenly spot lights aimed at the topmost windows of the cathedral. And the snow began! This time in the form of soap bubbles. The crowd cheered wildly. How long it lasted I cannot say. Within few minutes, the yellow tape carefully laid out by the police was broken and my children, among others, were dancing under the shimmering bubbles. For the second time on that hot glorious day it snowed in Rome and we were soaking up the festivity.

This is my story. This I was able to share with Carole Bigler. It’s our special story, ours and ours alone. Together we have had the delight of retelling our miracle to others. Each time we told it the pride bubbled inside of me. How glorious to share this memory with her!

When I remember Carole Bigler I will remember her dry sense of humor, her inviting smile, her way of putting all people before herself. I will try to follow in her foot steps by bringing joy and self esteem to my students. “What would Carole do?” often comes to my mind when I have a challenging teaching moment. Her memories will live with me forever for I have experienced a miracle with a miraculous teacher.

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I sometimes think my best teaching or inspirational brainstorms stem from the fact that I get bored easily.  At school I shift from one activity to another with a fast pace.  In my personal life I go from one project to another often without finishing any. I like being with a variety of people, each one filling a different purpose in my life.

As most Suzuki teachers, I teach  private lessons and offer group lessons for my students once a month.  I look forward to having the kids and parents together.  They are a family to me.  But how does one keep something that is a routine fun? Or the real question is, how can I keep from being bored with the group nights?

As I have mentioned before, I have a fabulous bunch of students and families.
The kids are multi -talented, smart and creative. Knowing this, along with my thirst for variety, I thought of  “alternative night”.  For group this month the kids were to perform, but NOT on piano.  As I thought about my students I realized almost all of them played another instrument at school in band or orchestra.  So that’s what last night’s group was- an alternative recital.  What a blast!

We had a viola solo, a drum solo, and sax solo.  There were two duets: flute and clarinet, and then two cellos.  We had a trio (father, daughter and son)- the father and daughter as a piano duet with the son accompanying on drums.  We had a sister duet of a vocalist and accompanist.  We also had a father/son combo with the father on piano and the son on cello.  My youngest student who is six does not yet play another instrument so what he did was play alternative Suzuki pieces.  He took two pieces from book I (Mary had a little lamb and Allegretto I) and made them jazzy.

The really impressive part of the night was that the kids all came up with their own ideas of what to perform and prepared the material on their own.  They called each other to create duet combinations, arranged  practice times and even dressed up!  I don’t know who had more fun: the kids, the parents or me!

In addition to this music, one boy performed his book I recital. His sister had just started lessons with me this month and she gave her first performance during the group (her mother told me that the child was so excited that she had her party dress on in the morning so that she’d be ready; group was at 7:00 P.M.!)

After the performance we celebrated as usual with sweet treats, but the party went on for much longer than the usual group nights.  Everyone was in high spirits congratulating all the performers and marveling at this special group of kids.  I even received two e-mails today from parents commenting on how much fun last night was.

Well, it’s almost time to teach.  What a lucky teacher I am.  And I guess the kids are lucky to have a teacher with a very short attention span.

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I was just surfing around and found a post from a person who was sort of doing an informal survey of what people practice when in a practice room. (sorry for not giving more detail or credit to who’s blog this was, but I don’t yet know how to link from one to the other)

Below is what he found:

  • Some members spend all their time to (sight)read (hard) pieces.
    These people are usually good sight readers. Some said that they don’t memorize well.
  • Some other practice memorized pieces only.
    They have good memory. Most of these people sightread slowly or too shy to sightread.
  • Several of them practice learnt pieces.
    This can be re-reading (not sightreading!) pieces or practicing memorized pieces.
  • The rest practice pieces to be performed on concerts, exams, etc.
  • Very few people practice improvisation

I found this informal survey very interesting and useful. Here’s what I noticed:

1. People like to practice what they already know or what they have previously learned. They call it “practicing”, and to some degree it is, but I think a more appopriate term is “refining”.

2. People like to “practice” pieces that are familiar, such as pieces they have heard others play, folk or pop tunes, anything in which the melodies are already in their head.

In coming to this realization as a piano teacher, I see three strategies for me with my students.

1. During the lesson, when I am introducing a new piece I have to make sure the student leaves with part of the piece being familiar. I have to make sure they can successfully play bits of it. That way when he/ she is home, he will have incentive to practice it.

2. Children need to listen to pieces they are going to practice or perform. Being a Suzuki teacher, I believe in this already, but I should follow through to make sure the child is doing his job and try to provide cds when necessary.

3. I have to teach the child what the word “practice’ means. Once again, I am already aware of this, but don’t always provide a plan of action with my students and parents. I say parents because I truly believe it is the parent’s responsibility to keep their child accountable.

In thinking about “practice”, I decided to consult the dictionary.

One definition was, “To do repeatedly in order to learn.” I am convinced that this definition is why kids practice the way they do. They often start at the beginning and play the piece over and over until they think it’s learned.

The definition I liked better is, “to engage in frequently” “to observe, to adhere to”. I think that if small bits of a piece are met frequently, then if we observe or analyze the bit and theoretically adhere to the bit, optimum practice will be achieved.

So good luck, teachers, parents and students. What is practicing mean to you?

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For those of you following news about the Kingston Suzuki festival, I am pleased to report that all systems are “go”. I received my contract today and many of the master teachers I so admire will be returning this summer too.

Although we are under some major changes, I am confident that all will run smoothly and the quality of the program will be high as it has always been. We have a new business manager who has been with the institute many years as a parent, volunteer, and a big support system. She has already shown her leadership qualities in preparing the staff.

As most of you know, Valery Lloyd Watts and Carole Bigler have retired. Although we will miss them dearly, their teachings will live forever in those fortunate enough to have shared education and music. We will continue their philosophy as we proceed this summer. Clayton Scott and Jane Kutcher Reed will be the new directors. These women have been with the institute for many years, and I am confident, will continue to bring the creativity and sparkle to the institute that Valery and Carole did.

If you have attended the institute in the past, continue to do so. You favorite teachers will be there along with some new faces. If you have not attended, consider it. I truly believe that the teachers are the finest in Canada and the U.S.

Check out the website:

www. suzukikingstonmusicfest.com It is just up and running, so make sure to check back for details.

I will post more updates as I get them.

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I love and respect art, and have found that painting a story during piano lessons is a very useful tool.

Varlery Lloyd Watts, concert pianist and teacher from Canada (she’s the performer of the Suzuki piano literature) is exceptional in her field for creating stories around the pieces she plays. Often in concert she will begin by telling the audience a story she created about a piece. She will tell the story and insert snippets of the piece so her audience is able to correlate the visual idea to the aural. It’s a great way for audience members of all musical backgrounds to get more involved with the music by providing a heightened opportunity of listening.

Valery does this also with her piano students. In master classes one will often hear her say, “When I hear that music it makes me think of…”. Then she proceeds to further her picture with the student and collaborate ideas. She is a master at this technique.

Although my stories are a bit less entertaining than hers, I love using this technique with students.
Here’s why:
1. It uses the right brain instead of the left. So often teachers say, “play forte here, add a ritard there….” Wouldn’t it be more fun to say, “play like a happy giant here who is slowing down to capture an annoying bird”?
2. When thinking a story the child’s brain focuses on the story instead of technical points, over all, creating a performance that includes more passion.
3. It helps the child get the big picture which brings unity to the entire piece. I especially love creating stories to sonatinas because of their structure. They lend themselves easily to a beginning, middle and end.
4. It gives incentive to practice. I would much rather think about practicing a piece about a princess who gets rescued by a handsome prince than think about watching my hand position, the exposition, or the diminuendo, etc.
5. It brings creativity and fun to the lesson.
6. It gives the child another tool to use when practicing. I have had students come to me with stories they created. My daughter has told me she uses the story technique when she goes to concerts and creates stories in her head while listening.

What I also like to do is start a piece with a story and then have the student finish it themselves for the next lesson.  It almost always results in a more passionate performance.

So grab your paint brush and give it a go!

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