Leopold Auer is remembered as one of the most important pedagogues of the violin, and was one of the most sought-after teachers for gifted pupils. Many famous virtuoso violinists were among his pupils, including Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, Toscha Seidel, Efrem Zimbalist, Paul Stassevitch, and Sasha Lasserson. Auer also taught the young Clara Rockmore, who later became one of the world’s foremost exponents of the theremin.
Like pianist Franz Liszt in his teaching, Auer did not focus on technical matters with his students. Instead, he guided their interpretations and concepts of music. If a student ran into a technical problem, Auer did not offer any solutions. Neither was he inclined to pick up a bow to demonstrate a passage. Nevertheless, he was a stickler for technical accuracy. Fearing to ask Auer themselves, many students turned to each other for help. (Paradoxically, in the years before 1900 when Auer focused more closely on technical details, he did not turn out any significant students.)
While Auer valued talent, he considered it no excuse for lack of discipline, sloppiness or absenteeism. He demanded punctual attendance. He expected intelligent work habits and attention to detail. Lessons were as grueling as recital performances—in fact, the two were practically identical.
In lieu of weekly lessons, students were required to bring a complete movement of a major work. This usually demanded more than a week to prepare. Once a student felt ready to play this work, he had to inscribe his name 10 days prior to the class meeting. The student was expected to have his instrument concert ready and to be dressed accordingly. An accompanist was provided. An audience watched—comprised not only of students and parents, but also often of distinguished guests and prominent musicians. Auer arrived for the lesson punctually; everything was supposed to be in place by the time he arrived. During the lesson, Auer would walk around the room, observing, correcting, exhorting, scolding, shaping the interpretation. “We did not dare cross the threshold of the classroom with a half-ready performance,” one student remembered.
Admission to Auer’s class was a privilege won by talent. Remaining there was a test of endurance and hard work. Auer could be stern, severe, harsh. One unfortunate student was ejected regularly, with the music thrown after him. Auer valued musical vitality and enthusiasm. He hated lifeless, anemic playing and was not above poking a bow into a student’s ribs, demanding more “krov.” (The word literally means “blood” but can also be used to mean fire or vivacity.)
While Auer pushed his students to their limits, he also remained devoted to them. He remained solicitous of their material needs. He helped them obtain scholarships, patrons and better instruments. He used his influence in high government offices to obtain residence permits for his Jewish students. He shaped his students’ personalities. He gave them style, taste, musical breeding. He also broadened their horizons. He made them read books, guided their behavior and career choices and polish their social graces. He also insisted that his students learn a foreign language if an international career was expected.
Even after a student started a career, Auer would watch with a paternal eye. He wrote countless letters of recommendation to conductors and concert agents. When Mischa Elman was preparing for his London debut, Auer traveled there to coach him. He also continued work with Efrem Zimbalist and Kathleen Parlow after their debuts.
The Suzuki Triangle should not be confused with the Bermuda Triangle. Unlike the Bermuda Triangle where everybody gets lost, the Suzuki Triangle makes sure everybody stays on board and is equally confident in navigating the course ahead.
The Suzuki Triangle has three key participants: the teacher, the parent, and the student. The relationships among these participants must be cultivated and nurtured from the beginning of the musical journey. The relationship between me and my student develops organically over time; together we push and pull until we find our own way of relating to one another. There are sparks of playful creativity, happy accomplishment, and joyful playing between student and teacher. Learning to make music can be so much fun when student and teacher ‘click.’
From my perspective as a teacher, the parent is an essential partner in making each lesson successful. A parent’s work with the student throughout the week is a determining factor in the success of the next lesson. The parent is my ally and vice versa. If I do my job, I am able to translate the playful stories, practice cues and tips into tools that the parent can take home and integrate in to the practice routine for the other six days when I am not there. I consider the lesson even more successful when the parent and student are able to tell me how the ideas worked over the week and how they adapted to work for their home practice. I endeavour to raise both skillful students and skillful parents.
As a teacher, I am also well aware that practicing at home can be a challenge. The Suzuki Method puts a great responsibility on parents to be “at home teachers” for their children. Teachers know this job is not always easy. What do you do when your child refuses to practice? How do you get them to practice properly with the posture, bow hold, and intonation points that the teacher will evaluate at the next lesson? How do you handle your own frustration when the suggestion of practice precipitates a child’s meltdown on or off the instrument? What is the appropriate balance between work and play for your child’s music education, so they develop a love for music? And how on earth are you going to fit in practice every day with your already packed schedule and a tired child?
Fortunately, Ottawa Suzuki Strings has a wonderful community for support. Parents can talk to other parents about solutions to common challenges (everyone has been there!). Parents also have access to faculty members who have new ideas and innovative solutions (many of which have been passed along by past students and parents and other teachers).
For those parents who want to tap into an even broader community of support, the Suzuki Association of the Americas has a launched a fabulous program called, “Parents as Partners.” You can talk with your studio teacher about possibly doing this as a group, or register on your own. You do not have to be an SAA member to access this program. https://suzukiassociation.org/ parents-as-partners/ registration/
The Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA) has a lot of interesting free information on their website: https://suzukiassociation.org/
The Importance of Musical Memorization and Setting Priorities for Long-Term Learning
As most of you already know, memorizing music is fundamental to the Suzuki philosophy. Suzuki students are expected to recall a larger and larger amount of musical information as they grow older and gain experience through the process of reviewing older pieces while learning new pieces. It may seem like common sense at first, but when I was first introduced to the Suzuki method five years ago I had never made the conscious connection between the importance of reviewing music and learning new pieces simultaneously as a pedagogical practice, it was just something I did naturally. I cannot stress enough the importance of this duality. I will explain how this continues to be an important daily routine for me after over twenty years of playing guitar.
Though there are several applications of memorization and review in a plethora of fields, I will speak to you from the perspective of a professional musician. I have just completed my first semester as a doctoral student at McGill University. These first four months required a delicate balance of scheduling, practicing, performing, recording, teaching and writing. I am required to set short and long-term goals on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to ensure that I stay on top of all my work. I set these targets to prevent myself from getting overwhelmed throughout the course of the year and my musical memory plays a crucial role.
Currently I am working on two hours of repertoire for recitals in the spring, all of which must be memorized. Naturally, I have to approach my daily guitar practice with a plan. Not only do I need to attend seminars at McGill and teach nearly twenty students at OSS, but I just finished recording an album of Spanish guitar with Analekta and am currently preparing a doctoral recital of contemporary solo and chamber music. The only conceivable way for me to manage this large amount of music is to ensure that every day I have an idea of what deadlines are looming in the short and long term. As a result, I dedicate a portion of my practice to memorization of new material and then an even larger amount of time to review of recently-memorized material. Once I am satisfied with my progress, I begin reviewing older music and then alternate between improvisation, sight-reading, technique and composing, not necessarily in that order.
There is no way to “cram” in music. Musical memorization requires repetition over long periods of time as our brains need rest in order to consolidate the information that has been learned. It takes time for our brains to transfer learned motor behaviours from the short to the long-term memory-centers of our brains. This is why it is paramount that children develop the habit of memorizing from an early age so that it becomes just as normal as all of their other routines. Try consciously making memorization of new music a part of your child’s weekly practice schedule if you aren’t doing this already. If you are, work on bigger and bigger chunks and set more ambitious goals as your child becomes increasingly comfortable. Speak with your teacher about activities that encourage memorization and concentration and implement them as often as you can. I myself am constantly balancing new and old music just like a beginner Suzuki student.
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.
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.
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.