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"Dear Dr. Arnie" from In the Key of Strawberry

  
  
  
Arnold and CA

The Guarneri String Quartet (photo by Erwin Fischer) and Charles Avsharian

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"Me and My Violin" by Arnold Steinhardt

  
  
  
Guarneri Quartet

The Guarneri String Quartet (photo by Erwin Fischer) and Charles Avsharian

A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal: Days Seven and Eight

  
  
  
Alexandra

Most SHAR employees are players in addition to being luthiers, salespeople, purchasers, or web developers. So when one of our senior customer care specialists asked to attend the Phoenix Phest Grande Suzuki Teacher Training Workshop, we said, "Sure! But can you also blog about it?" Not only has Alexandra Ostroff sent us dispatches from her training workshops, she's generously shared her reflections on the Suzuki Method, allowing us to witness the discoveries and challenges of this week-long session at Phoenix Phest Grande.

August 8, 2013

Today we did it, we got to the last piece in Book 1, "Gavotte" by Gossec. Tonight our assignment is to make a list of all of the skills that our students will have learned by the time that they’ve mastered the material that we have covered in this book.  ’m not sure exactly how many that I’ll come up with, but I know that the list is going to be VERY long.

We also completed our final observations required to help us understand how this method works and to assist our students and their parents to achieve excellence. An institute setting is a bit different than a weekly private lesson for many reasons. Despite the differences in the setting, the teacher they are learning from, and the frequency of the lessons that they are attending, the students that I’ve observed over the course of this week have made so many positive strides coming closer to mastering the skills and techniques that we are focusing on in lectures. I’m so proud of them all and I’m sure that their teachers and parents are as well.


August 9, 2013 

Today I completed the coursework required to become a Registered Violin Unit 1 Teacher with the Suzuki Association of the Americas. As a final lesson, we learned how to say “no” to the things in our studios or our lives that are counterproductive to our goals -- and the importance of setting standards for oneself, freeing up time to focus on the things we want to do.

I have learned so much this week, and its been such a great experience. The people I was in contact with exuded so much love for their craft, I remain awestruck. I’m going forward into the music community as a better teacher, player and person.

I’d like to send a special thanks to the following people for helping make this week possible. First,  Nancy Jackson, my Teacher Trainer, who has been such an inspiration to me this week. Thank you Nancy for sharing your expertise, experience, and a piece of your heart with us. To Rolando Freitag, Nancy’s Teacher Trainer Candidate, and fellow teacher trainees, it was a pleasure to learn with and from you all -- please keep in touch! Thanks to Gabe Bolkosky and the Phoenix Phest Organization for offering this training, and thank you to SHAR Products Company for assisting me in being able to be a part of the event. And lastly, thanks to Jay for supporting me throughout this week.

I go forward from this training excited to teach with love in my heart for music, children and the world.


















A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal: Days Five and Six

  
  
  
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Most SHAR employees are players in addition to being luthiers, salespeople, purchasers, or web developers. So when one of our senior customer care specialists asked to attend the Phoenix Phest Grande Suzuki Teacher Training Workshop, we said, "Sure! But can you also blog about it?" Not only has Alexandra Ostroff sent us dispatches from her training workshops, she's generously shared her reflections on the Suzuki Method, allowing us to witness the discoveries and challenges of this week-long session at Phoenix Phest Grande.

August 7, 2013

Today started with going over the teaching points for more of the pieces in Book 1. We continue to be hands on with our approach to learning the things we need to focus on for each piece. Our teacher is doing a great job of demonstrating what the typical troubles that the little ones will have with each technique.

I really appreciate that after we went over teacher training points the next topic that we addressed was running a studio. It was not a topic that I thought would be addressed at teacher training, but is most definitely something that any new teacher needs assistance with. We had a lecture/group discussion going over the necessities of creating a business for yourself and producing a high level of excellent from your students. What good would all of this training be if we trainees went back to our homes and studios and did not enforce what we’ve learned? Our assignment for tonight is to create a studio policy to give the parents of our students.  This is a simple upfront contract of what you expect from the parent and student when they join your studio. Having a policy in place makes it easier for you to focus on learning in your lessons. Payment, attendance and cancellations have already been addressed and you seem more like a business than just some girl that is going to teach their child violin.

This point leads me to the other invaluable bit advice that we were given. Look the part when you are teaching your lessons. If you put the effort into looking professional (business casual) then you are establishing being a professional to your student and their parent. They will know that you take yourself seriously and this will work in your favor when teaching and enforcing polices. It’s hard to remember that your studio is a business and it’s your business. Once this has been established in your mind and the actions are taken to exude that to your clientele, it will help your enhance the learning that occurs within your studio. 


August 8, 2013

Wow, day six. I would have never guessed how much I could learn in these days! Today’s focus was continuing the in-depth analysis of the teaching points in Book 1. All of these skills are fresh in my mind because they are the focus of our lecture and lesson observation.

After our day of lecture and observation today, I headed over to the practice room to run through Book 1 and then focus on some orchestral excerpts and the concerto I am currently learning. As I started my personal practice I noticed something different in my approach. I was applying the concepts that we had been discussing this week to myself. Before starting to play I made sure that my head was supporting my instrument and my left hand was free of tension, I listened for the ringing tones on my instrument in my warm up scale, I focused on opening and closing my arm at the elbow to obtain a clear tone. I’m not saying that these are not things that I have been striving for in my playing until this point, but that after having been out of school for five years something clicked. I hope that I will continue to bring these core skills to my attention in my warm up for future practice sessions and to continue to improve my skills with dedicated practice.
















A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal: Day Three

  
  
  
Alexandra Ostroff

Most SHAR employees are players in addition to being luthiers, salespeople, purchasers, or web developers. So when one of our senior customer care specialists asked to attend the Phoenix Phest Grande Suzuki Teacher Training Workshop, we said, "Sure! But can you also blog about it?" Not only has Alexandra Ostroff sent us dispatches from her training workshops, she's generously shared her reflections on the Suzuki Method, allowing us to witness the discoveries and challenges of this week-long session at Phoenix Phest Grande.

August 5, 2013


When I came home from my training today, I had the energy to eat dinner and almost immediately fell asleep - and stayed asleep – for rest of the night. Learning is a lot of work, and there is a bounty of information passed on every step of the way. To get the education I want to from this training, I need to be focused 100% of my time in lectures and observations. Being Suzuki trained is the equivalent of a full-time job.

In class, our instructor continued our education on “Pre-Twinklers”. I’m glad that we are spending so much time focusing on this level player because it was the most foreign to me coming into training, and we are learning that it is the most crucial time period in a violinist’s development. I can only imagine how my playing would be different today if this had been the path I had started on in my violin playing. Old habits die hard, especially improper ones ingrained at a young age - the time and energy spent by the teacher, parent and student from the start is justified. For instance, as the child progresses he or she will be able to focus on learning new techniques and playing-styles without having to try to relearn how to hold or play the instrument.

A large portion of the day was spent in observing lessons, master classes and group classes. These observations have been very helpful for me in learning how to interact with a young child in a teacher-student relationship. Without seeing this method in action, there is no way for a teacher trainee to come home and teach within this style. Teaching in the Suzuki style is very hands-on with the child so you can guide them in learning how to balance and play their violin without tension. I’ve also spent time observing the parents in lessons, because they are considered the “home teacher” for the student. Every parent I’ve observed has been completely onboard – ready to learn anything required to help their child succeed. Parents follow the lesson with bright eyes, taking notes and asking questions when they don’t quite understand how or why the teacher is assisting the student. The Suzuki Method creates a special bond between these three people even in the first meeting – and that bond is critical to the learning process.









A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal: Day Two

  
  
  
Alexandra

Most SHAR employees are players in addition to being luthiers, salespeople, purchasers, or web developers. So when one of our senior customer care specialists asked to attend the Phoenix Phest Grande Suzuki Teacher Training Workshop, we said, "Sure! But can you also blog about it?" Not only has Alexandra Ostroff sent us dispatches from her training workshops, she's generously shared her reflections on the Suzuki Method, allowing us to witness the discoveries and challenges of this week-long session at Phoenix Phest Grande.

August 4, 2013: Suzuki Violin Unit 1 Teacher Training

Yesterday, I’d resolved to memorize Suzuki Book 1 as quickly as possible. With that goal in mind, I spent the morning car ride listening through Suzuki CD Volume 1 as an attempt to refresh the material – it was a rather lucky coincidence that the car ride was just the right length to make it through the disc! My extra listening seemed to make a difference when we played the pieces in our group sessions today. Although I still can’t make it all the way through every piece, I did not need to pull out my music for reference. When our Teacher Trainer had us answering questions while we were playing, I realized how much more work there was to be done with memorization and internalization of the music. The reality of leading a group class is that you need to be able to play while giving instruction – something that is not possible without having the repertoire internalized entirely.

Last night, one of the reading assignments was Teaching From the Balance Point by Edward Kreitman. It is a wonderful guide for parents, teachers and students that highlights some of the skills that a Suzuki teacher will be teaching their student and explains them in a fashion that anyone can understand. The highlight of this book for me was the chapter entitled Rote Versus Note. This was eye-opening to me in that with the appropriate skills in place a child can work out how to play a piece on his own. When the teacher instills in their student the knowledge of their instrument’s geography and the skill of being able to verbalize and understand if a note is the same, higher, lower or a skip away from the one preceding it, the child can organically work out how to play a piece. This also requires a great deal of listening by the student (which I’ve already mentioned is leading me to success in my memorization goal for the week).  

With the addition of a great deal of lecture on the appropriate posture and bow-hold set-up and the outlines to the first lessons that a “Pre-Twinkler” will experience, the puzzle pieces of the Suzuki Method are coming together for me. This process, when done correctly, and with excellence in mind, organically produces a mastery of a truly perplexing instrument. 









A Suzuki Teacher Training Journal: Day One

  
  
  
Alexandra Ostroff

Most SHAR employees are players in addition to being luthiers, salespeople, purchasers, or web developers. So when one of our senior customer care specialists asked to attend the Phoenix Phest Grande Suzuki Teacher Training Workshop, we said, "Sure! But can you also blog about it?" Not only has Alexandra Ostroff sent us dispatches from her training workshops, she's generously shared her reflections on the Suzuki Method, allowing us to witness the discoveries and challenges of this week-long session at Phoenix Phest Grande.   

August 3, 2013

Today I started my one-week course to be a registered Suzuki Violin Unit 1 teacher. Each day I will be blogging updates with some of the ideas and concepts I am learning and detail the experience of becoming trained in the Suzuki Method. I must admit - although I’ve completed the prerequisite steps of reading Nurtured By Love (by Dr. Suzuki) and attending the Every Child Can seminar, the internal mechanisms of the Suzuki method remain a mystery to me.  In my learning of the violin, the written music part has played so strong a role that I can honestly say at this point it is a crutch; the idea of learning a piece completely by listening to it is somewhat foreign.

Our teacher began the week with an overview of the weeklong course. Afterward, we unpacked our instruments and began to play through the pieces in Book 1 together. I was not a “Suzuki kid” growing up, so this was the first time that I had ever experienced playing in a group setting outside of an orchestra section.  It’s difficult to find the right words for how it feels to play in this group, but I might describe it as a “musical hug”!

Memorization is not something that I excel at, and I was proud of myself to successfully make it through Perpetual Motion before I had to pull out my music and follow along in spots -  I’ll have to do a lot of listening and practicing this week to obtain my goal: to be able to play the whole book from memory.

In our lecture portion of the course, we started at the end; that is, we began by viewing the end results of the Suzuki process. We watched my Teacher Trainer’s student’s first recital, then fast forwarded to their Senior Recital - and saw the incredible results of a team comprised of teacher, student and parent. There was a wide range of high-level repertoire selected by the students and each piece was played with a high degree of musicality and technical ability that made the reticent 18-year-old in me jealous. The grace and ease of the playing on this recital is something that I did not have as I entered the collegiate world. How did they obtain this high level of playing?

Their teacher had this level of excellence in sight when they first taught them how to stand on their Twinkle Mat with a bow and hold their violin on day one of their education. As she lectured, we went over the fundamental concepts that need to be in place to create the foundation for success of a beginning student; among other things, the daily listening by the parent and child, daily practicing by child with a parent’s guidance, and the importance of giving the parent and child clear goals for their practice time at home.

I’m anxious and excited to learn and to push some of my own personal boundaries this week.  I’m looking forward to doing more observation throughout the week, especially of the group classes and of young players. I plan on becoming a stronger teacher as the week progresses.  Please follow with me on this journey!















Summer Suzuki Institutes Are Just Around the Corner

  
  
  
Joseph Chapman

I have plenty to regret from my high school days, but strangely enough one of my biggest regrets isn't one of the usual suspects: a train-wreck romance, a misguided teenage prank, or an angst-ridden poem I stupidly shared with friends. No, it's summer camp. Or, rather, not going to summer camp.

In North Carolina, right before spring and allergy season cloud what little sense a teenager has, high school teachers notify their best and brightest sophomores that they've been accepted to a month-long academic and arts program called Governer's School. (The nomination and selection process goes on behind the scenes, and starts in September.)

When I received my letter of acceptance for the Governer's School English Program that March, at first I was giddy. Someone noticed me! But when I saw that I'd be away from my friends for a whole month, I made, objectively speaking, a bad decision. Why would I want to go to school for a whole month during the summer? My teachers and guidance counselors were confused when I declined, but the decision made perfect sense to me.

That is, it did until late in the summer when I hung out with a friend who actually went. He described the comraderie, the fancy labs (he went for science), art studios, and the palpable dedication and creativity. My high school self still scoffed at his description, but I secretly wished I had gone. And as I've gotten older and taught at some wonderful summer institutes (like the Young Writers Workshop at the University of Virgina), my regret has grown. These summer institutes -- where testing and the hazards of typical school days disappear -- are havens for young creative minds.

All of this is to say that you should check out the Suzuki Summer Institutes schedule posted here. The Suzuki Method is meant to be a community effort (like language!), and I can't think of a better place to have that happen than a supportive, immersive summer institute. As Alexandra Ostroff, a Suzuki Teacher-in-Training at SHAR told me, "Taking a week to spend immersed in music is well worth the time and money. As a child seeing the wide ranges of players at camp help inspire me to practice harder and become a better player." One's creative endeavors, especially as a child or adolescent, aren't easy to maintain. But the right support structure, even if it's only for a week or two, can nourish an aspiring artist throughout the year.

For more on the Suzuki Method and summer institutes, check out Suzuki instructor Lucy Lewis's series of blogs here











Lost & Found: Fritz Kreisler's University of Wisconsin Football Songs

  
  
  
Pipe

Today we have a marvelous story from SHAR Apprentice James Engman. James shares with us his discovery, in the musty, dank corners of the University of Wisconsin's School of Music Library, two Fritz Kreisler pieces composed for the UW football team. Not only does James's story remind us to keep our eyes and ears open for what's wondrous and overlooked, it shows us how James's eclectism -- a love of old pipes, arrowheads, football, classical music -- has as much to do with his discovery as his determination to find the perfect performance piece to end his undergraduate career.

Several hours after taking my dog for a long walk last weekend, I was on my way to the local Ypsilanti Historical Museum with a 175 year-old ceramic tobacco pipe. It had apparently been dropped into the Huron River by An early 19th Century fur trader, where it remained caked in mud through the Civil War, the entire 20th Century, the birth and death of 15 US Presidents, and the blossoming and conclusion of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez’s relationship. Finally, I came upon it sticking out of the silty river bank in the spring of 2013. My propensity to pick up interesting looking garbage is finally paying off, yet this is not the first time that I found something that hasn’t been gazed upon for many years. I once found a flawless arrowhead on my uncle’s property in Northern Wisconsin, and came upon some nickels from 1905 while replacing drywall in my childhood home. While reflecting on the excitement of finding the old pipe this weekend, I remembered another discovery from about a year ago. So far, it ranks as probably the most meaningful and exciting of my discoveries, and it was actually a piece of music.



While preparing for my senior recital last spring, I decided that there was room for a short “dessert” piece at the end of the program. I was intent on playing a piece by each of my favorite violinist-composers, Pablo de Sarasate and Fritz Kreisler. Since I had already chosen Sarasate’s “Jota Narvarra” to conclude the first half of the recital, I was in the market for a charming piece by Kreisler. Clicking through countless YouTube videos, exhausting myself through countless Naxos albums, and finally letting my Fritz Kreisler Pandora station do the work as I folded laundry, I was full of ideas. Still, nothing was speaking to me on a deep personal level – the way I wanted to conclude my undergraduate performance career. I decided to do some reading about Fritz Kreisler to learn more about his music, and I began with a short biography by Eric Wen at the beginning of The Fritz Kreisler Collection, the first book in a fantastic series of Kreisler sheet music compilations from the publisher Carl Fischer.(Note: If you have a chance to read about Kreisler’s early composing career, you will certainly find the circumstances of his success inspirational.) There was one sentence in that short biography that caught my eye. I suddenly knew exactly what I was going to play at the end of my recital, though I didn’t know the title or what the piece even sounded like.

The sentence that caught my eye was the conclusion of a paragraph about Kreisler’sversatility. Wen wrote, “At the request of a friend, [Fritz Kreisler] even composed two football songs for the University of Wisconsin.” My recital was the conclusion of my undergraduate studies at that very University. At first I simply sat and stared inquisitively at that line, reading and rereading it until it made sense. It was as if God himself inserted that coincidental nugget into the universe for the sole purpose of me finding it. Old posters in the Union Theater told me that Kreisler had performed for UW, but I had never heard of a piece written by him for Wisconsin. I immediately scoured the internet for information. Google didn’t bring up a single hit for anything about a UW football song by Kreisler. I even asked my professor, Tyrone Greive, who knows everything else you could possibly know about the violin and our University, and he had never heard of Kreisler writing a piece for the UW. Without the help of the internet or music scholars who had been at the University for years, there was only one option remaining: to search the depths of the musty catacombs that is the School of Music’s sheet music library.

After hours of paging through old songbooks from Kreisler’s time, I finally came upon a section of thin paperback books inside hard green folders entitled “Songs to Thee, Wisconsin.” They were printed in 1948, the year my grandfather returned from the War and enrolled in the University of Wisconsin as a freshman. In them were two songs with Fritz Kreisler’s name at the top: Pioneers of Wisonsin and Valiants of Wisconsin. The words were written below the melody, and below that was a piano accompaniment also written by Kreisler (who was an accomplished pianist). According to the songbook, Kreisler was a good friend of UW’s President Clarence A. Dykstra, who had written the words to Pioneers of Wisconsin and wished for Kreisler to write a melody and accompaniment for them. The piece was first performed at the 1943 homecoming game with a marching band arrangement by conductor Raymond Dvorak.

While both of the pieces certainly had all the gaudy charm of a football fight song, I chose Pioneers of Wisconsin, being that it was in D major, had a lyrical introduction, and a refrain that led itself to be easily turned into a theme and variation. I composed two variations to showcase double stops, harmonics, arpeggios, and barriolage, and had a few days to get them under my finders and memorized. My recital was a few months after the Rose Bowl, in which the Badgers ended their fantastic season with an unfortunate loss. While only a few members of my recital audience were avid Badger Football fans, of those, only one or two had any idea of the importance of Fritz Kreisler and his repertoire. Regardless, I felt that I had brushed of some lost artifact, and while it may not have awed anyone much more than a washed-up old tobacco pipe, it bridged two eras and united two very different pastimes. I imagine my grandfather singing these pieces at his first UW homecoming celebration, and how they may have had the popularity that “Sweet Caroline” or “Jump Around” have today (songs that are both played endlessly at UW football games).

My hope is that every musician will at some point have the experience of discovering an old, obscure piece. There are many out there, whether in print or not, lost among the multitudes of favorites that grace thousands of recitals and concerts each year. You might not always find them where you think you would, but eventually they surface and present themselves to someone lucky enough to have their eyes on unlikely places.

If you have a story of discovering a little-known piece of music, please send your story to jamese@sharmusic.com.

















In Defense of Karl Lagerfeld's Violin Shaped Dress

  
  
  
Josephine

In today's blog, SHAR Apprentice, violinist, and fashionista Jospehine Llorente confronts one of the timeless questions: is all that glitters cheaply made? Can't we have both quality craftsmanship and our brightly-lit, irresponsible, neon-colored fantasies? In doing so, Josephine comes to the conclustion that being tough on a hot green VSO (Violin Shaped Object) doesn't mean a girl can't have fun.  

As a former school teacher and current SHAR Apprentice, I have encountered my fair share of VSOs. The worst part about them is that they get kids super excited about playing (that is, until they actually try to play on their neon green VSO). While my extreme aversion to ridiculously colored violins is a subjective opinion, I think it’s safe to say that string teachers and players aren’t too fond of sticking pegs, painted purfling, terribly fitted bridges, and a sound that leaves you wondering if someone’s cat is dying.

As someone who desperately wants a hot pink Daisy Rock Guitar (pictured right), I completelyget why people find VSOs so appealing. Not only are VSOs way more fun-looking than the traditional wood violin, they are cheap (in every sense of the word). In the battleground of online shopping, price is everything. There are numerous websites and apps that help you find the lowest price, because, let’s face it, people want a good deal. I would be lying if I said I didn’t succumb to these ploys. (Although I would love a Dyson, a quick peek at my checking account convinced me to buy a thirty dollar, barely-functioning, Vacuum Shaped Object.)

Last month, I was making my regular visits of various fashion blogs when I saw actress/it-girl Chloe Sevigny in a vintage Karl Lagerfeld dress. I loved the dress: it’s a high-neck number, loose-fitting, with a gold (and glittering!) violin-shaped panel that connects the skirt to the cap sleeves. Then it hit me. OMG. SHE’S WEARING A VSO. And as I was fawning over Chloe in the $4000 dollar dress, to my surprise, I realized that I really loved this VSO. I thought my feet were firmly planted in the anti-VSO camp? How could I just abandon ship and go against everything I’ve learned as a teacher, player, and SHAR employee?! I would have to decide: either my love of the Karl Lagerfeld vintage dress or my lifelong commitment to fighting VSOs would win out.

Did it have to be this way, though? I gave myself some time to think about it. And, surprisingly enough (or not suprisingly), I found that I could both love the Lagerfeld dress and continue to despise VSOs. Although Largerfeld’s dress has the markings of your typical VSO (non-functional pegs and absurdly colored), I knew it there was more to it than what I was initially seeing. I came to understand that the violin dress is much more like a fine violin than a VSO. Like a Bazin bow (or a Dyson vacuum!) a Lagerfeld dress was created by a true master of his craft. He famously stated, Things have to be beautifully made, even if they are full of fun, fantasy, and futility.” He also said, ”It’s all about taste. If YOU are cheap, nothing helps.A bit harsh, but Uncle Karl hits the nail on the head: you get what you pay for. And in this case it’s an impeccably made violin dress. 









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