Imagine a world in which children can come together solely through the language of music. That was the vision of violinist Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, who founded the Suzuki method of instruction to nurture loving human beings and bring communities together through music. The Music Institute of Chicago (MIC) has worked to realize Dr. Suzuki 's dream over the past 30 years through their annual Mid-Winter Workshops for violin, piano, cello, and flute.
On Jan. 26-27, over 70 violinists from ages 4 through 15 gathered at MIC's Evanston West campus for the violin workshop. The young musicians and their parents geared up for classes with internationally recognized Suzuki teachers from across the United States.
The workshop was not only about playing music but also about making friends. “It's important to build community. Here at the Music Institute there are so many campuses that he kids don't see each other very often, " said workshop coordinator and MIC violin instructor Reagan Brasch. “So it's an opportunity for the kids to see each other, and it's an opportunity for them to get to work with top-notch teachers from all over the country.”
Students honed technical skills in mini-lessons and group classes with violin instructors Linda Fiore, Lucy Shaw, Teri Einfeldt, and Rolando Freitag; explored fiddle tunes with folk musician Matt Brown; and improved their senses of rhythm in a music and movement class with MIC viola and Eurythmics teacher Sarah Montzka.
Several children said their favorite class was Ms. Brasch's play-in for students in Suzuki books one and two. Students played several pieces from each book, learned a little music history and had a lot of fun. Six-year-old Katrina Cleveland enjoyed a game where the students stamped their feet in time to the music and "made a big earthquake." Six-year-old Rosemary Sweeney and seven-year-old Lucia Muthu both had fun bending to the side or standing on one foot each time they played certain notes in a scale.
Another favorite activity was Mr. Brown's fiddling class. Nine-year-old Margaret Sweeney said, "It was just really fun, and what we were playing was interesting. It was different than most of the pieces we've been playing." Margaret's mother, Meagan Sweeney loved how the children learned a whole new song in the one-hour class. "He [Mr. Brown] said I'm going to do very little talking and we’re just going to play. And by the end, all of the children were playing this fiddling piece - it was amazing."
The workshop allowed parents the opportunity to learn right alongside their children. Several families participated in optional mini-lessons during which a group of 3 to 4 students observed as a teacher worked with each child one at a time. Parent Caroline Cleveland said that she "enjoyed the different insights on how to better improve technique." Karen Mossman, whose daughter Sophia also participated in the session, said that "having a really small group and having most of the children playing the same song helps to get different pointers from everybody."
Families soaked up some inspiration for the future during a recital by MIC Suzuki program alumna, 17-year-old violinist Emily Jones. The New Trier High School senior has served as concertmaster of her school's orchestras as well as receiving first prizes in prestigious competitions including the Walgreens National Concerto Competition (2008) and the Senior Division of the Music Festival in Honor of Confucius (2011). In addition to performing advanced works such as Niccolo Paganini's Caprice No. 9 and Maurice Ravel's Tzigane, Ms. Jones treated the audience to several tunes from the early Suzuki books.
“Emily was in the audience at the workshop, when she was [the students'] age, and she was enamored by Ben Beilman's recital," Reagan Brasch explained. [Editor's note: Beilman, a former MIC student, is now an award-winning concert violinist]. "After she saw the concert, she was really jazzed. It's hard to get motivated in January, so it's the perfect time to have something like this."
The performance seems to have spurred excitement in several young audience members, who left the recital enthusiastically clutching programs with Ms. Jones' autograph. Perhaps several years from now, one of those violinists will spark the flame of inspiration in a future community of student musicians.