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A pedagogue not to be missed – Margot Jewell

Teacher’s Corner:

by Lance Elbeck

A pedagogue not to be missed!

Margot Jewell is coming to OSS next week. She will be a teacher/trainer for our faculty, Saturday, February 17 – Sunday, February 25, 2018. This will be held at Rideau Park United Church, 2203 Alta Vista Dr., Ottawa.

Margot, for many years was a member of the Hamilton Philharmonic, so I knew her primarily as a violinist. After my ‘retirement’ about 4 years ago I took my first Suzuki Book 1 training with her.  I always marvel how well she relates to the very young and her ability to break down complex violin skills and present them to kids in a natural, yet fun, manner.

Saturday, Feb. 24th is the workshop day so at the very least, please try to attend Margot Jewell’s Parent Talk/Discussion at 12:30-1:10.

On tone

In Margot’s class we read about and discussed Tonalization. Suzuki says ‘At each lesson I say “Put your heart into your tone, your spirit into your tone”, because our entire personalities are revealed in the tone we produce.’
It was so great learning that Suzuki loved Mischa Elman’s tone. Elman had the most amazing sound. Elman was quite close to my teacher, George Perlman. Elman would call Mr. Perlman from New York regularly so it was amazing to actually play over the phone long distance for Elman more than once.

Perlman had emigrated with his parents at the age of four to the United States where the family settled in Chicago.  He received violin lessons from well-known violinists from that period, including Leopold Auer , and he studied law. He worked as a lawyer for several years while he also taught violin lessons. Later, the legal profession stopped to fully focus on teaching and performing. He taught 60 hours per week until he was 74. He composed many pieces for his students as a study. Those pieces are still loved by many violin forces. George Perlman died in 2000 at the age of 103.

Was Auer the greatest teacher of them all?

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,[6] 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 Bermuda Triangle

Teacher’s Corner:     

by Megan Graham

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/

Musical Memorization and Setting Priorites

Teacher’s Corner:     by Adam Cicchillitti

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.

If you want to see my musical memory in action, I will be performing solo and chamber music recitals in Montreal on March 3rd and May 7th and in Ottawa on March 10th and April 13th. I’ve almost finished memorizing my whole program for my first doctoral recital, leaving me several months to polish the final product. On March 10th, I will be performing my album live at St. Bartholemew’s church as part of a CD-release concert. We’ll be going out for refreshments afterwards and everyone is invited! Here is a link to my video of Tonadilla:

Visit from Maestro Alexander Shelley

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.


Musicians Are Athletes

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.

People don’t go to many concerts anymore

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.

Being a part of Ottawa Suzuki Strings

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.


Teacher’s Corner: By Lisa Moody

External versus internal motivators in a parent’s desire for their children to learn a musical instrument

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!

Happy Practising!

Cultivating “Slow Scholarship” with the Media Multitaskers of ‘Generation M’*

Teacher’s Corner By Megan Graham

Cultivating “Slow Scholarship” with the Media Multitaskers of ‘Generation M’*

“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.

Teaching Music to ‘Generation M’

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.

Creating an Environment of “Slow Scholarship”

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.

A Contemplative Way Forward

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

Having fun in the classroom!

Teacher’s Corner: by Adam Cicchillitti

Having fun in the classroom!

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!

The holidays bring an aray of beautiful musical performances

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.

My Students’ Memories

Teacher’s Corner by Lance Elbeck

As a former symphony musician now retired and teaching in Ottawa I’m continually impressed with the amazing memories displayed by the students at our school.

Fine symphonic players are excellent readers of music – great interpreters of notes on the page.  We like to joke that we’ve played the Mozart 39th Symphony (for instance) so many times that we could play it by memory.

Yet, how many of us could just sit down alone by ourselves in an empty room and play the 1st violin part to the Bartok concerto for orchestra completely by memory, observing all the rests, without an occasional prompt from our parts?

From the youngest students to the young adults in Stellae Boreales,

OSS teachers expect and encourage continual use of the ‘memory muscle’ in the Suzuki tradition.

It’s pretty thrilling for me to have a young child memorize a page of music, as they often do in just a week, and bring it eagerly into the lesson.

Stellae Boreales plays all repertoire from memory- I’m more impressed with their learning of the accompanying parts rather than the tune. The coaches set deadlines for the group for upcoming concerts – and are rarely disappointed.

A couple of decades ago I became pretty unhappy with my own musical memory. It was bad enough not being able to find my car keys or worse yet, to go into a room and forget why I was there in the first place.

The yearly solo concerto with the orchestra had become effortful from a memory standpoint, as the orchestra season became far busier and my outside musical affiliations increased, so one day it was off to the library for me to do a little research on the subject, hopefully to help my own memory.

Lo and behold, I found a wonderful book, The Art of Memory, by Frances Yates.

Ms. Yates begins in her book,

“In the ancient world, devoid of printing, without paper for note-taking or on which to type lectures, the trained memory was of vital importance. The ancient memories were trained by an art which reflected the art and architecture of the ancient world, which could depend on faculties of intense visual memorization which we have lost.”

The author then goes on to quote an unknown teacher of rhetoric in Ancient Rome:

“Now let us turn to the treasure house of inventions, the custodian of all the parts of rhetoric, memory.”

“There are two kinds of memory, one natural, the other artificial.  The natural memory is that which is engrafted in our minds, born simultaneously with thought. The artificial memory is a memory strengthened or confirmed by training. A good natural memory can be improved by this discipline and persons less well endowed can have their weak memories improved by the art.”

….Findings in the online edition of the journal Brain, pub. 2006, showed that not only do the brains of musically-trained children respond to music in a different way than those of untrained children, but also that the training “improves their memory” as well. After one year the musically trained children performed better in a memory test that is correlated with general intelligence skills such as literacy, verbal memory, visiospatial processing, mathematics and IQ.

….The Canadian-based researchers (McMaster University) reached these conclusions after measuring changes in brain responses to sounds in children aged between four and six.

Over the period of a year they took four measurements in two groups of children — those taking Suzuki music lessons and those taking no musical training outside school — and found developmental changes over periods as short as four months. While previous studies have shown that older children given music lessons had greater improvements in IQ scores than children given drama lessons, this is the first study to identify these effects in brain-based measurements in young children.

At the beginning of the study, six of the children (five boys, one girl) had just started to attend a Suzuki music school; the other six children (four boys, two girls) had no music lessons outside school.

….The researchers chose children being trained by the Suzuki method for several reasons: it ensured the children were all trained in the same way, were not selected for training according to their initial musical talent and had similar support from their families.

In addition, because there was no early training in reading music, the Suzuki method provided the researchers with a good model of how training in auditory, sensory and motor activities induces changes in the cortex of the brain.

Analysis of the music tasks showed greater improvement over the year in melody, harmony and rhythm processing in the children studying music compared to those not studying music. “General memory capacity” also improved more in the children studying music than in those not studying music.

Prof. Laurel Trainor ….”it is very interesting that the children taking music lessons improved more over the year on “general memory skills” that are correlated with non-musical abilities such as literacy, verbal memory, visiospatial processing, mathematics and IQ than did the children not taking lessons. The finding of very rapid maturation of the N250m component to violin sounds in children taking music lessons fits with their ‘large improvement on the memory test’. It suggests that musical training is having an effect on how the brain gets wired for general cognitive functioning related to memory and attention.”

According to the general principles of ‘artificial’ memory we should put everything that we want to fix in memory into an image. The more vivid the imagery the more vivid the impression.

As a teacher I find myself continually challenged — trying to make the music come alive and jump off the page and into my students memories.


Teacher’s Corner    by Nan Laurnzio

A few thoughts this week about rhythm…

Rhythm is one of the most important elements of music. You may be able to read the notes of the music, produce a sound on your instrument, play with dynamics and pitch precision, but if you don’t understand the rhythm of the music, you will not be able to play the music as the composer intended it, nor will you be able to play alongside other musicians in a group or orchestra setting.

Learning to “feel” rhythm can be fun and can be an activity that you can do together with your children.

Here are a few ideas to consider:

1. READ rhyming stories to your children and emphasize the rhyming words making sure to feel the pulse as you read.

2. LISTEN to the Suzuki CD every day! If you are traveling in the car, try humming along with your children to the piece, then turn down the volume for a few measures of the song and when you turn the volume back up you can see if you have kept up with the tempo of the music.

3. CREATE some rhythms by trying the free Noteflight demo.


4. Try some family BEATBOXING music-making (maybe a good holiday activity). Here are some links to some Beatboxing tutorials. Try the snare, high-hat, kick (bass) drum parts to start. The zipper is a fun sound to master too. Have your child write a variety of simple rhythms in 4/4 time on a piece of paper, then each family member can make the sound of a different drum or cymbal (see videos below) to the rhythms your child has created.


Kick Drum


High Hat


Snare Drum




Enjoy a Live Concert at the NAC!

Teacher’s Corner     by Elaine Klimasko

As I regularly perform on stage with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, I search the audience to see if there are any familiar faces and to see if young students are present to hear these fine musicians and famous soloists. I am often saddened at how few children attend live concerts to have this important experience in a beautiful concert hall. It is festive, celebratory, stimulating and thrilling!. Real people perform for them in a gala setting. The orchestra talks to the audience through the music.This is what makes dreams come true for these children. It’s no longer just the repetition of a difficult passage in their Book 2 piece but, rather, something that they can aspire to! My father regularly took me to live concerts from the age of five and they are the most exciting and wonderful memories I have as a young student of the violin. I wanted to be on the stage too and play all these great pieces with other musicians. I can honestly say that attending concerts as a child was the defining factor in me becoming a professional musician. Families are so busy these days but please find and take time to look through the National Arts Centre Orchestra season brochure and pick a few concerts to attend. Get dressed up, go out for dessert after and make it a special event. You might be very surprised and thrilled at your child’s reaction.

I’ll look for you from the stage and wave if I see you.

Practicing with our Child

Teacher’s Corner:   By Christopher Barham

One of the beautiful opportunities in practicing with one’s child in a regular way is 1:1 time together. Naturally during these sessions there can be less than stellar behaviour, but there can also be moments of great beauty and connectedness. A wonderful possibility during this together time is getting to understand our children at a much deeper level, including what their fears may be. Some simple questions can usually help to clarify this in less than 5 minutes. For example, let’s say there is resistance to trying or doing something in a lesson, and I sense there is some sort of discomfort involved. I might ask the child some questions as follows below. As a teacher, I am interested in the student’s wholeness and helping them to identify and move beyond their fears, particularly around performance and making mistakes. We need to generate a positive growth mindset. This following sequence might take 5 minutes or less or more. Sometimes it takes a number of discussions, and sometime only one.

What’s up? Are you a little nervous or scared about something? YES

What’s that about? I WILL MAKE A MISTAKE

O.k., and what does that feel like? NOT GOOD

I see, and are you going to melt, or fall into pieces? NO

Something else? I AM NOT SURE

mmm….o.k., so what does it mean if you make a mistake? THAT I MAKE A MISTAKE

Got it, so what’s under that ? WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

Well, you believe that it is no big deal to make a mistake and underneath there is a different feeling or message. What does it mean about you if you make a mistake? THAT I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH/I AM A BAD BOY OR GIRL/I WILL NOT BE LOVED/I WILL BE BANISHED/ ETC.- there are many possible simple child-level responses, and it may take a number of times or re-asking the question to drop down to this point, but this process can be fairly quick. At this moment, the parent may need to give their child a hug or cuddle. Some do not need it and can continue chatting.

O.k., and do you notice a feeling in your body when that thought comes up? YES

Can you describe it to me…does it have a colour, or shape? IT IS A SQUARE AND RED Where do you feel it? IN MY STOMACH What else can you tell me about it? WELL IT KIND OF MOVES ABOUT A LITTLE AND IS PRICKLY, I HAVE FELT IT BEFORE

O.K., Now is it true that you are going to be banished? NO- BUT IT FEELS LIKE IT

Yes, it does feel like it’s true, and we know it is not going to happen. This is just an untrue story and the best part is you can re-write the story. So if you notice this feeling, you can simply tell yourself, “Thanks for sharing, I know this is not true, and I am writing another story”

So, what might be something else you could tell yourself when that feeling comes up? THAT I CAN ENJOY PLAYING IN THIS CONCERT


It is important that you are ready to give your child a big hug and loving support anytime throughout this simple question and answer process. There is no perfect set of questions to help a child/student understand what stops them. The youngest I have asked these questions to successfully is five years old, and the older the students get, typically the more coached they become in their answers.

Once we (parents and teacher) are more clear about the underlying fears the child may harbor, we have a new perspective in how to better support the child/student in their life’s journey, including musically. I usually share with the child that we all have these issues, it is just we do not talk about them too often, or do not even know they exist. I also find that this kind of conversation is very bonding for the parent and child. At least in a lesson, I keep everything very light and easy and gentle…and don’t push. It is so useful understanding what is underneath percolating along within our young people, and it is so easy to forget or not recognize the richness of their inner lives and how when they separate from unity they can stop, and when they find that inner connection to the whole, they are able keep moving along enjoying the adventure.

The Routine

Teachers’ Corner by Sara Mastrangelo

Every autumn, families settle into a routine.  Violin and guitar lessons, ballet classes, homework, soccer; it all gets juggled around like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.  Ride-sharing and bus schedules, lunch packing and dinner planning.  Where did the summer go?

This fall, I encourage families to take a moment.  Think about where you are spending your time and where your children are spending theirs.  Is everything we are doing necessary?  Are there ways to simplify life?  Is there time in your child’s day where they can just be kids and play, read a book, or daydream?  Numerous studies say that boredom fosters creativity.  Does your child  have time to be bored sometimes or is every single minute of their day accounted for?

Now take a moment to envision your child being the best they can be at their instrument.  What will it take for this to happen?  Does the schedule need to be cleared out a bit?  Do bedtimes need to be adjusted?  Are clear goals being set?  The practice environment should be free of distractions and comfortable.  Here, structured practice time is fruitful.

Children thrive in a routine that includes regular practice habits and also free time.  They will continue to amaze us as parents and teachers!