March 16, 2017 – Argentina Tour – Stellae Boreales at Teatro Colon LD
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Teacher’s Corner: by Nan Laurenzio
On Monday, March 20, Ottawa Suzuki Strings had the distinct pleasure of hosting the music director of the National Arts Centre, Maestro Alexander Shelley. Maestro Shelley carved time out of his extremely busy schedule to come to OSS and meet the children in our school, from the beginning Book 1 students to our advanced performance groups. It was quite special to see Maestro Shelley work his magic.
I had the privilege of watching Maestro Shelley as he led some very engaging discussions with the Rhythmic Reading students, singing with them to help them understand how vital phrasing is. He spoke about the role of the conductor and how a conductor’s role is like being the driver of a race car as well as the mechanic who has to fine tune and tweak the engine to get it to go where he wants it to go. He explained how a conductor can help the orchestra create something unique and beautiful by studying and understanding what the composer intended for the music. Maestro Shelley met with our guitar students and with a violin group class and the Fine Tuners before joining Stellae Boreales on stage with more of his dynamic conducting.
The National Arts Centre and, in fact Ottawa, is very fortunate to have someone like Alexander Shelley at the helm who is inspired to make music accessible and is interested in youth being engaged in music. 2017 will be an awesome time to introduce your children to one of the upcoming NAC concerts. You will see concerts built around themes, and visuals complementing music, there will be opportunities to hear modern Canadian composers and beloved classical composers as well as combinations of all genres of music.
I have included a link to an excellent Ottawa Citizen article that includes not only an interesting biography of Alexander Shelley but also a great explanation, with video clips, of his task of conducting (Conducting 101) and a little about his philosophy of music and his vision for music in Ottawa.
We woke up today realizing half of our trip had already passed. The Stellae gang woke up and had the usual breakfast at the hotel. After breakfast we went to Northlands School for our second performance of the trip. When we arrived, we were surprised to see hundreds of little students, squirming through the auditorium into their seats. Since the auditorium was stuffed to the teeth, we were all very hot. With sweat streaming down our arms and legs, our hands were extremely sweaty. They were so sweaty that when we tried to shift to second position, our hands resulted in slipping to 8th position. Despite the odds, we managed to pull it off, and the crowd of primary and senior students thoroughly enjoyed it. Northlands School then kindly had us for lunch. Many Stellae members enjoyed pasta, chicken, and rice. During lunch some Argentinian chicos asked us to do a quick interview on the northwest passage in Canada. Joel volunteered to do the interview partially because he was the only one who knew the answers to their questions.
After lunch at the first school, we bussed to the second location of the Northlands School. We enjoyed playing cards and socializing on the bus. We were then guided to our warm up room to prepare for our second concert of the day. Before we played we got the opportunity to hear Northlands School orchestra play a few songs. It was really interesting for us to hear another ensemble from the other half of the world. Then it was our turn to play. The concert was a success! The crowd was very supportive and enthusiastic. After the concert there was a brief Q and A. The students were able to ask us questions about us and the violin. Some of the questions were: “when did you start learning the violin” “how do you feel when you play the violin” and “how long do you practise a day”. The questions allowed us to further understand ourselves as a violin player.
After the concert we headed by bus to the Canadian Ambassador to Argentina’s house. On the bus ride, many Stellae members sang a Capella style to our Stella repertoire. I could say we harmonized nicely, and it was a fun time. The bus ride also included a game of president and the braiding of Devon, Sofi, and Jezlyn’s hair. We finally arrived at the house, and we discovered it was incredibly beautiful. The inside was decorated with elegant furniture, but the backyard stole the show. It was equipped with a swimming pool, a trampoline, a soccer field, and badminton and volleyball nets. Truly a kid’s paradise. Stellae enjoyed using these activities, eating a delicious meal, and mingling with the ambassador and his family. Sadly it was time to go back to our hotel. When we got back to the hotel we all played some cards against humanity which was a hoot to say the least. Then we all went to bed, thinking about the great day we had.
Tonight, many of us went to the tango show at Cafe Tortoni, the oldest cafe in Argentina. It was supposed to be all of us but unfortunately there was a protest and none of the taxis with the girls could make it! The guys were there in full force. It was a beautiful show. Afterwards, outside, the guys were inspired to strike poses they saw in the tango show! Their performances of tango music will be so informed after this! Cafe Tortoni management very graciously offered to let those who missed tonight’s show see the show Thursday evening. They are in for a treat! After this first exposure to authentic Argentine tango, we are looking forward with great anticipation to a tango dancing class later in the week at La Viruta, a milonga in Buenos Aires very popular with Porteños and visitors.
March 14, 2017
Today was an interesting day; we had a chance to visit the downtown shopping street, Florida Avenue. To get there was possibly the longest taxi ride of my life. Although the distance to downtown is only around 7km away, it took us 1h to get there because of traffic. Our taxi ride was quite terrifying since Argentinian traffic does not follow the same order as Canadian traffic. As Daniel put it, our drivers seemed to be driving in “all lanes at the same time”. Blinkers were never used to change lanes and lane markings were merely guidelines.
As for Florida ave, the narrow walking street was fairly busy, lined with expensive clothes stores such as Nike and Adidas and sprinkled with small kiosks selling souvenirs. Every few metres, a person would shout, “Cambio, cambio!” – change your money. We walked into the the Gallaria, a shopping mall. Its Victorian architecture fit in with the rest of the buildings around it. In the centre of the mall was a Sistine chapel remake and a fountain. There were many familiar stores to us such as Timberlands and Lacoste, but to our dismay, they were a great deal more expensive than in Ottawa. For lunch we had delicious empanadas and for desert a few of us went to Freddo, an ice cream chain that almost tops Stella Luna for the “world’s most expensive ice cream” award. The smallest size is very small (2/3 the size of a Stella Luna small) and costs $6CAD. We walked around a bit then attempted- and failed- to hail taxis outside the shopping mall for all 20 of us. A few people managed to get taxis and the rest of us headed to a bigger street and successfully got taxis.
At the hotel, we rehearsed our pieces and went swimming. Today was the warmest day so far 26 degrees in the afternoon.
Dinner was pizza at the Kentucky pizzeria, that we went to on Friday. Ordering skills have greatly improved since Friday, most of us can get by ordering food with minimal help from Sofi.
After dinner came quite a strange ordeal. Arlene, Minh Anh, Sofi and I got into a taxi, on our way to a tango show. The show was downtown, close to the “Casa Rosada” (Argentinian Parliament). Two taxis had already left (an all boys taxi and the Rentenaars). As soon as we got into the taxi, the driver started rambling at us in Spanish. Sofi was quick to translate: “he says that all the roads to the tango cafe are blocked!”. We kept talking to him and eventually understood what was going on: there was a protest going on downtown that was blocking many the main street (Avenido 9 de Julio). “Well can’t we walk?” we asked. The answer, to our dismay, was no, the rioters were too violent. He warned us that the protesters would cut our bags open and steal our phones. We decided to turn back, and met a few others at the hotel. As it turned out, the boys’ group and the Retenaars had made it there safely, and had walked a few blocks to the cafe when the cabs could no longer get through. At the hotel, those of us that were left (aka all the girls) gathered in Sarah’s room for a girl’s card game night. We drank matte (traditional Argentinian tea), ate snacks and talked. Although we are sad that we missed the show, the tickets Judy (who was at the show) managed to change our tickets so that we can go Thursday night, so at least we are not missing out. (Now begins a part written by the boys who went to the show)The tango show was nothing short of spectacular. It was a great way for us to explore the Argentinian culture and traditions. On the way back to the hotel, the stellae guys took taxis, which led to the “epic taxi race” between the senior stellae guys and the intermediate stellae guys. The taxis were neck in neck all the way to the hotel. Once the taxis got to the hotel, all the guys sprinted out of their taxis, and ran up the stairs at such a fast rate to see who would get to the ninth floor first. In the end, the senior stellae guys came on top as Austin took the elevator instead of walking. They celebrated by taking the W and think that the intermediates are sore losers.
This adventure starts on a Thursday afternoon in Ottawa. Everybody arrived at the airport around 4:30 and after a bit of confusion about where spare strings were to go, goodbyes, (and pictures of course) we were off. After a short flight to Toronto, we had an extended wait in Toronto before our next flight. During this time, people looked for food, mingled, and even did homework (shameful, I know). We then got on our second of three flights, to Santiago, Chile. While some of us watched movies and shows for the duration of the flight, others tried to get as much sleep as possible. Nevertheless, we arrived in Santiago in good time, and then waited for a little while to get back on the plane to head to Buenos Aires. The flight from Santiago to Buenos Aires was pleasantly shorter than the one to Santiago. Once we arrived in Buenos Aires, we soaked in the sun and the heat, which we had forgotten actually existed. We then took a shuttle bus to the hotel where everybody was dozing off. After a quick stop to check out our rooms, we headed out and walked to get some pizza, where Aaron attempted to order the pizza in Spanish, which was comical to say the least. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel, and I now listen to Felix and Austin practising and the busy night life outside as I finish writing this blog. But it’s safe to say, that after 24 hours of travelling, we could all do with some sleep.
Teacher’s Corner: by Sarah Williams
Musicians Are Athletes
Musicians use their bodies extensively while playing. There are some instruments that are more naturally positioned for the body, such as the oboe or trumpet, where the instrument is simply held in front of the body, positioned in the centre. The violin is a different case. It is held on the left shoulder with the left arm suspended in the air out to the side and the right arm raised, moving horizontally as the bow is drawn across the strings. Although we can learn to relax as much as possible while playing violin, it is still not a natural position.
Many complications can result from improper posture while playing the violin, such as unbalanced legs, a curvature in the back, over extended elbows and many more. Some violinists develop stiffness in the jaw from clenching their teeth while playing. I saw a teacher once in a masterclass who asked the student to play with their mouth open to help relax the jaw muscles. Another good tip is to lift your head off the chin rest and move it around periodically.
With a good teacher and practice, musicians learn proper posture right from the beginning of learning to play the violin. By maintaining proper posture, they may be able to prevent injuries.
Similar to athletes, musicians train hours a day, and use their bodies strenuously with repetitive motions. The muscles and body tires after playing for long periods, and injuries can develop. I developed tendinitis at age 16, and had to take a year break from playing the violin. Thankfully, my muscles recovered and I was able to start playing again, but this is not always the case. Some musicians develop injuries and are no longer able to play because of the pain
This is why I would like to stress the importance of stretching before practising. Stretching helps relax the muscles and prepare them for the repetitive motions we create when playing. This will in turn avoid complications with overused muscles over time.
Teacher’s Corner: by Lance Elbeck
*People don’t go to many concerts anymore. *
These days parents, especially with younger children, are often reluctant to make the trek to the NAC to hear great live music. There is a wonderful orchestra here in Ottawa. The concert experience can be so very stimulating for a youngster. Make sure your child is old enough to enjoy the music, sit quietly and give it rapt attention.
For a family experience and a change of pace how about a weekend trip to Toronto, Montreal or Buffalo to hear their large orchestras or hear the COC? Instead of booking a cruise or going to Disneyland, book the same amount of time and go to New York to absorb the great art and music making!!! The entire art immersion experience (concerts, art galleries, dance and theater) can produce unforgettable memories to our young Suzuki players and their parents alike.
I was very fortunate to live relatively close to a great city when I began my study. Because we lived only 120 miles away (one way) my dad made a huge effort to find the best violin teacher he possibly could. This also meant his extraordinary commitment to drive me to my lesson every week. Today I truly appreciate his interest, sacrifice and joy in helping me become a musician.
After lessons and Chicago youth orchestra rehearsals we would often go to an evening concert in Orchestra Hall. How exciting to hear Milstein or Oistrakh play in recital or with the Chicago Symphony. I have never forgotten these concerts.
Also, on another note: *I want to recommend today’s technology to all parents*
We live in a wonderful age of “apps”! I like “ins tuner” for pitch and Pro metronome for rhythm. There are many other wonderful ones available for cell phones or PCs. Of course, Korg has an amazing line of products as well as Dr. Beat.
The tone with which to compare one’s pitch must be loud enough for the student to hear properly.
I just bought a new Korg tuner for the studio and all the students today noticed it and asked me about it. The sound it produces is LOUD and suitably annoying for tuning —a win win.
I expect parents and students to embrace these tools that with daily use yield technically proficient results.
This post was posted from my iPad app called “BlogPad Pro”. You can add pictures, links and text, and format everything, even do it offline and then upload it later when you are done your post, and have access to wifi..
You need an author account on the school website and of course you are a member of the school.
Please email Judy and ask about a blogger account.
Teacher’s Corner by Sara Mastrangelo
Being a part of Ottawa Suzuki Strings is the best gift you can give your child. In particular, I would like to focus on one aspect of being a part of Suzuki program, which is the benefits of performing. Performing is a regular part of each child’s life when part of a Suzuki program . It is a “normal” thing to get up in front of a large group of people, acknowledge your audience and play something by heart which you have worked on for several months. It is “normal” to be expected to memorize short, then increasingly more complex, difficult and longer pieces as one grows up. It is “normal” to have a group of friends that you grow up with and maintain friendships with. Three years ago, I attended a wedding of one of these special friends who I grew up with. We were Suzuki violin buddies. It is “normal” to spend minutes, then gradually hours working on your craft. It is “normal” to feel that special sense of accomplishment and pride and belonging with your peers because of your involvement with your instrument and the Suzuki program. It is also “normal” to sense no fear when making speeches in front of hundreds or thousands of people (thanks Toastmasters, I have never attended one of your meetings). It is also “normal” that Suzuki kids end up being leaders and world-shapers, successful at whatever they do. Growing up on stage has a way of doing that.
A few pictures of Stellae Boreales’ perfornace on Friday Feb 3, and a short video of the ensemble playing “Jealousy“.
Teacher’s Corner: By Lisa Moody
If you are like me, as a parent of a Suzuki child, you have thought a lot about how to motivate your child to practice their instrument without coercion and the risk of them losing interest altogether. Most of us would like our children to be self-driven and self-regulating in their practicing. We hope that our children will practice and play for personal enjoyment, derive independence through the learning process, and obtain a measure of social satisfaction from playing with other children. Together, these factors add value and meaning to their efforts and reinforce the learning cycle.
Suzuki training provides for all three aforementioned intrinsic (internal) motivators where a child’s natural curiosity for learning is nurtured through the development of technical skills that allow participation in music making with other children in the group class setting.
However, if we are honest, we have probably all resorted to bribery, rewards, or worse, threats to get our children to practice, and we may forget the reason why wanted our children to learn an instrument in the first place. One factor that you may not have considered is the influence of parental motivation on your child’s learning and how our attitudes and beliefs influence the learning success of our children.
Researchers have defined parental intrinsic motivation as the consideration of a parent for children’s need for autonomy (e.g., one’s child has an interest in learning music), competence (e.g., to develop a child’s abilities) and relatedness (e.g., to create opportunities for one’s child to interact with others). In contrast, extrinsic (external) motivation refers to their consideration for the credits, prizes and other external awards that could result from music training (Liu Liu et al., 2015).
Not surprisingly, research has shown that a parent’s intrinsic motivation with respect to musical training is positively related to the success of the child. Research has showed that when parents pay more attention to fulfilling children’s internal needs through, for example, encouraging children’s interests, curiosity and persistence, children are more likely to form intrinsic learning motivations and achieve better learning outcomes (Gottfried et al., 1994).
Accordingly, one would expect external motivators to negatively impact learning if they are undermining intrinsic motivation. For example, if providing extrinsic rewards results in feelings of incompetence or being externally controlled, the negative consequences of extrinsic rewards are more likely to occur.
On the other hand, there is the provision that extrinsic rewards could also produce positive effects, if they do not conflict with fulfilling individuals’ intrinsic needs (Liu Liu et al, 2015; Ryan and Deci, 2000).
Research shows that while intrinsic and extrinsic motivation coexist in parents’ minds, that external motivators can play an important moderating role in musical achievement. In other words, when parents have a high level of intrinsic motivation and engagement in their child’s learning, extrinsic rewards can have a positive effect that can maximize the benefits of both types of motivators (Liu Liu et al, 2015).
Incentives and rewards used judiciously can be a way to mark or celebrate learning achievements as long as they are not the only motivator. For example, practice charts that upon completion result in a reward (e.g. seeing a movie, attending a concert, going out for ice-cream, etc.), can be very motivating and benefit both the child and parent – the child has an achievable practice goal and the reward is time spent together. Participating in a music festival like the Kiwanis Music Festival or taking a Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) exam are another type of external motivator that may complement and enhance the learning process.
To summarize, the best things we can do as parents to facilitate the learning process, is to focus on fulfilling the internal needs of our children. When a child’s needs for independence, competence, and community, are fulfilled, they will regard the learning process itself as interesting and joyful, and have a more positive attitude towards challenges. It’s a win-win for parent and child!
Teacher’s Corner By Megan Graham
“If you practice something slowly, you forget it slowly. If you practice something fast, you forget it fast” – Itzhak Perlman**
“Good scholarship requires time: time to think, write, read, research, analyze, edit, and collaborate. High quality instruction and service also require time: time to engage, innovate, experiment, organize, evaluate, and inspire.” – Alison Mountz
Focus during the music lesson and home practice is a challenge for many children. It is becoming increasingly difficult to resist distraction when there are so many things that need to get done. Teachers, parents, and students are all part of a society that demands high productivity in a compressed time frame. These ever-increasing demands on our time are not small matters. They are big tasks that cannot be ignored. The pressure to multitask, to do even more in less time, is strong. It is fuelled by the rapid pace of the technology in which we are immersed.
It’s an hour before dinnertime at home and a 4th grader and 6th grader both have to complete violin practice and homework for school the next day. The problem: They also want to finish an ‘important’ online game with their friends that they started the night before. Can they do all of this at the same time? Can it be done accurately?
This predicament was adapted from a scenario proposed by child development researchers. The children in the scenario are part of the generational cohort of media multi-taskers that follow from Generations X/Y/Z/Net/Digital Natives. They have been coined “Generation M” for “multitasking” by Time Magazine. Gen-M is growing up with a relationship to technology that begins at birth. This is a “mobile culture” where laptops, cell phones, and iPads are used all the time, accompanying every activity.
Homes have become “media multitasking environments,” where adults and children simultaneously watch television, use the computer, and engage with the cell phone, and other electronic devices. The youngest generation in society carries out the most media multitasking on a daily basis. This multitasking happens both in school and at home. The music lesson and home practice both require uninterrupted attention to be successful. Learning an instrument requires repetition and focussed attention that engages the working memory and executive functions of the brain. Media multitasking may be training children’s brains to switch tasks frequently and orient to distractions in a way that is detrimental to learning music well.
Learning and teaching take time. Itzhak Perlman is known for his saying, “If you practice something slowly, you forget it slowly. If you practice something fast, you forget it fast.” Perlman also recommends that young violinists [and all musicians, I’m sure] practice in small sections with an approach that is thoughtful, purposeful, and patient. The idea is to cultivate an attitude of quality over quantity. This can be challenging because it is the exact opposite of what multitasking has been proven to achieve (i.e., quantity over quality). It takes time to engage, to innovate and experiment (as Dr. Suzuki often did), to organize to evaluate and to inspire one another.
Explain the benefits: Share information about the impact of media multitasking on learning. Explain to students that lesson and practice time is not a time to multitask in the way they might do elsewhere. Perhaps like yoga, practicing is a time to draw attention inward to the task at hand and enjoy the pause in the day’s frenetic pace.
Out of sight out of mind: Eliminate technology from the learning environment. Even if the phone is on silent mode, its presence can be distracting. I have made the mistake of leaving my iPad visible during a lesson. I did not realize the student even noticed the devices until they started pleading with me to show me their favourite game that they promised was related to the music. It is simply better to put it away.
Put it in writing: Decide what will work for your home environment. Create and reinforce house rules around mobile device use during practice time.
As technology becomes increasingly present in our lives and the lives of our students, we as teachers need to consider ways to work with it productively. That can mean integrating technology into our studio practice through digital music tools. It can also mean restricting the presence of digital technology in the lesson and practice environment. When the presence of technology promotes a rapid switching activity in our students that is detrimental to their focus and careful practice, then the environment needs to be changed. Fueled by the rapid-speed technology in our environment, multitasking becomes a habit that our students may have difficulty leaving outside the studio and practice rooms. As teachers, we may also have difficulty bracketing music lessons and practice as a time for slow, contemplative work. However, it is to our benefit to ground ourselves and resist the frenzied and distracted cycle of multitasking. With deliberate effort, we can create environments of focused, self-determined, slow work four ourselves and our students.
*This article is excerpted from my larger article submitted to the American Suzuki Journal
**Reference sources available upon request
Teacher’s Corner: by Adam Cicchillitti
Though most of you intrinsically understand the importance of having fun during the music lesson, there are often moments of frustration that creep into our student’s practice when the student faces a difficult teaching point. Ensuring that the student effectively understands a teaching point, demonstrates his/her understanding through several repetitions in front of the parent and teacher and finally is able to correctly integrate the teaching point into home practice is paramount to the child’s musical evolution.
The responsibility of motivating the child to persevere during these crucial moments in early learning lies with the teacher and parent. Most of us understand this instinctively but many lack the tools to keep the children engaged when faced with critical teaching points that must be repeated several times when the child becomes bored or distracted. In my experience the two most effective methods of getting kids to retain the lesson in their short and long-term memories is for them to have fun and to integrate movement into the lesson.
Usually a child’s body language can help you determine their level of engagement. Maybe they’re looking at the clock often or drooping their shoulders. Sometimes when a child is faced with a difficult task the simplest thing to do is get them to stand up and “shake it off”. Often I get up and demonstrate this shaking motion do the kids don’t feel silly, but often they’re excited to do it. Other times, I get them to stand up with their instruments and walk around with good posture, ensuring they don’t hit their guitars on anything. Moreover, I get my students to emulate their concert performances by walking “on-stage” and “off-stage”, making sure they bow before and after they play. You’ll see that just a little extra physical movement during a lesson can go a long way!
When I travelled to Pittsburgh and had the privilege of working with Suzuki teacher-trainers William Kossler and Mir Ali, I observed teachers who had a lifetime of working with children and who were able to convey a deep enthusiasm for learning the guitar. Kossler showed up to every lesson with a binder full of stickers and toys appropriate for every song and situation while the parents sat in the class and took notes. The kids were beyond attentive, in fact they were totally absorbed in the world that Kossler had created and in the challenges he laid before them.
Here are some ways that I like to have fun with the kids:
Challenge games – get a barrel of monkeys and every time the child does several successful repetitions he/she can go fish with their monkeys to make a longer chain. Watch out! If one of their monkeys fall of the chain when they fish, they have to start over.
-Using a jenga game, every time your child misses a challenge you can remove a block from the tower! Make sure the challenges aren’t too difficult. Great for concentration and memory.
-Hide an object in a room when your student is out of the class. When the child comes back in the class, begin playing Suzuki tunes softly if the child is far from the object and loud if he or she is close. This is always a favourite.
These are just a few examples. There are literally thousands of music games and you can even invent your own. Playing games and having fun will make a world of difference in the retention of the music lesson and the motivation to practice teaching points at home. Remember to choose a specific focus every week and don’t try to do everything at once!
Teacher’s Corner: by Ania Hejnar
The holidays bring an array of beautiful musical performances. From Christmas concerts to Musicals to Oratorio and Opera, this time of year and the music it brings can provide a really special emotional and spiritual journey. The stories displayed in Oratorio and Opera have their own special quality. But what exactly is the difference between Oratorio and Opera?
Both Oratorio and Opera are methods of musical expression which can answer to many different emotions. There is a difference between the two however. An Oratorio is a large musical work that includes an orchestra, mass choir, soloists. Similar to an Opera, the Oratorio does include the use of soloists, choristers, characters (plot), an ensemble, and music accompaniment. The difference is Oratorio is more often than not performed in concert format, where there is rarely any staging required or memorized music for all musicians. There are also no props or costumes in an Oratorio and the orchestra is often visible as part of the performance. Another important difference between the two is the Oratorio’s subject matter which often deals with sacred topics appropriate to perform in the church. Protestant composers wrote about Bible, where as Catholic composers took plot examples from Saints as well as Biblical settings.
An Opera idealizes the theatrical stage with music and distinguished characters. There is often an orchestra, but many times hidden in the pit of the stage. The characters have an array of costumes and there is a painted set to represent different locations of the plot. Operatic plots tend to include historical events and mythology; subjects with romance, comedy, murder, and deception.
Whether it’s enjoying an inspirational Opera of The Christmas Carol, or Handel’s Messiah, both Oratorio and Opera can bring out many different emotions to an audience member. They can both be touching, comedic, melancholic, and devastating, but regardless the taste of the listener, the musical expression they convey are always rewarding.