Sometimes, a name is just a name. But with our new Franz Hoffman Koe violin, we wanted a name that would capture the feeling of first learning to play—really play—the violin. “Koe” means “voice” in Japanese. Its Japanese character can also be interpreted as a cry, or a note. Along with its craftsmanship, this violin’s name was carefully and thoughtfully considered—we at SHAR definitely took a long time to decide on it! We decided on Koe with this question in mind: What does it mean to have a voice in music?
Alexandra Ostroff, one our Customer Service Leads, talks about her experience this past week at the Phoenix Phest Suzuki Teacher Training seminar. Alexandra is clearly developing into a talented teacher; what I love most about her blog post is how open she is to learning from those around her.
This past week I took some time away from my desk and returned to Phoenix Phest in Ypsilanti, MI to continue my education in teaching the Suzuki Method. This blog entry will share some of the highlights for me from this week’s institute.
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.
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.
Our latest blog is from Nerissa Nields, a Suzuki mom of two and folk singer in the band The Nields. Nerissa confronts an important question in this post: How do family dynamics show up in her son's Suzuki lessons? Her response is refreshingly honest: while she expresses a lot of frustration with her son Johnny, she ultimately recognizes and respects his current limits.
Johnny has had four violin lessons and one group class. It’s so strange to see how different two children can be. After years of telling friends that my kids were more alike than not, as violinists at least they show their proclivities. Lila’s bow-hold was right-on from the start; Johnny grabs his fat marker in his fist and doesn’t comprehend that one does not wield it like a sword. We are supposed to be clapping out each of the six Twinkle variations to our new teacher’s words, but Johnny wilts after one-half of one, where Lila dashed ahead, graduating from her Twinkles in less than nine months. I take his fists in my two hands and tap them together for claps, but he says, “Dis gives me a stomach ache.” And more painfully, “Dis is my body and I get to do what I want!” Who can argue with that?
In Paul Tough’s new bestseller How Children Succeed (which I am supposed to be reading but haven’t started yet, but I did listen to half the This American Life piece about it) he argues that the skills most necessary to teach kids are self-control, to learn to focus attention, and to delay gratification. The exercises our teacher gives us are all about these skills. We start with a bow in which Johnny says, “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” or “Good evening,” depending on what time it is. We listen to the Suzuki Slow Twinkle CD and clap along, as I said above, and we listen to the Twinkles up to speed while he sways back and forth, his feet in playing position and his box violin on his shoulder. Then we do “Up Like a Rocket” with his pen-cum-bow and his bunny bow-hold. He wants to make up his own lyrics, but his teacher insists on hers. Delay gratification. He wants to make his pen go horizontally for “back and forth like a choo choo train,” but his teacher makes him keep it vertical. Self control. He ends each practice with “Thank you for the wonderful lesson,” and a bow. Nothing to complain about that. It’s teaching him good manners.
So why is this all so hard for me? Because he doesn’t always want to do any of it, and I feel foolish, frustrated, helpless, and most of all like a Tiger mom. A failed Tiger mom at that. We set up his foot chart (a 20″ cardboard with construction paper cut outs of his feet positions) and it can take 20 minutes for him to get in rest position and bow. Before he can do this, he has to fall on the floor a few times, balance on one foot and go, “Whoa! whoa!” and wave his arms around, ask for a drink, decide he has to pee, take off his shirt, roll up his pants legs, look out the window to see if Gulliver the Cat has come over, look out the window to see if his dad has biked home yet, set up his favorite cars to watch the practice, go get his ducky to watch the practice, count the marbles in his marble jar and then fall on the floor crying and insisting he hates violin and never wants to play again.
And we haven’t even picked up the actual violin.
Lila’s teacher Emily Greene says that whatever you are dealing with in terms of family dynamics will come out in the violin practice. As an author, and a teacher of writing, I notice that whatever is hard for me in life is hard for me on the page, and so it goes with my students. If a student doesn’t know herself, it is hard for her main character to be known. If a student is impatient and in a hurry, her scenes will skim by. If a student is fluent in the language of emotion but slow to take action, her scenes will be rich studies of humanity but lacking plot. And if a person cares more about being liked and well-thought of by teachers and other authority figures (but not little boys) and is the tiniest bit afraid of confrontation, violin practice sessions can turn into the Clash of the Titans.
Today I wised up. I looked at what we were being asked to do. Johnny can’t make it through even one Twinkle, either in the swaying exercise or the clapping one. Our teacher doesn’t know this because I haven’t told her. Instead I have brought her practice sheets covered with stickers (and let’s be truthful: the stickers are for me, not Johnny. I am the one who puts them on and gets a big hit from seeing them taking over the yellow lines of the paper.) But I will go in on Thursday and tell her we need to slow down, even though progress seems snail’s-paced to me as it is. And this morning, I got down a shaker of nonpareils which I used to bribe him to do each item on our practice sheet. I had Johnny bow, do one Twinkle variation for swaying, one for clapping and his up like a rocket. It all took five minutes. I hugged him and praised him and he bowed deeply. “Sank you for a wonderful lesson,” he murmured.
Our latest blog is from Nerissa Nields, a Suzuki mom of two and folk singer in the band The Nields. Nerissa discusses the importance of process in the Suzuki method: her kids' teacher, Emily Greene, considers the violin almost a "by-product" of the method.
My niece, with her band, has recorded her first single, which she wrote, sings lead on and plays bass on. It’s a rocking song called “Speak Up!” and my kids just got their mitts on a CD of it.
"Speak up, stand up/Don’t let anyone tell you what to do… " sings my 6-year-old daughter, along to her beloved cousin’s vocal. Her little brother mimes playing the descending bass line on air guitar. We’ve listened to the song four times in a row. I am blown away by the confidence, the mastery, the reedy sweetness of the eleven-year-old voice. And, to make matters even more delightful, the song is about music itself, and the deliciousness of coming into one’s identity as a young musician:
"In music there are no lines to cross/In your own song you are always the boss."
Ah, the freedom of the pop musician. Tom and I just came from a Suzuki parent class, a two-hour affair held for all parents of Suzuki kids of all instruments. I felt tearful – in a good way – by the end of it. Other parents shared their reasons for taking on what is the equivalent of a college class (and we’re talking about just the parents’ role here!):
- "It gives my son confidence and something he can be proud of."
- "It teaches my daughter that if you practice something, you will get better."
- "If I am there to guide them, it keeps them from laying down the wrong neural pathways."
- "This is an opportunity to give my child the ability to master something."
- "She whistles the themes of the music all day long!"
Interestingly, none of the parents said, "Because I want my child to be the next Joshua Bell." Everyone present was more interested in process than product. In fact, the teacher (Emily Greene) even referred to playing the violin as a by-product of the method. The real fruits are compassion, frustration tolerance, self-control, appreciation of beauty, self-esteem and a closer parent-child relationship.
Even though I, like my niece, have relished the freedom I have had as a folk/pop/rock musician to be the "boss" of my own songs and my own music practice, I am all for Suzuki, especially the fruits listed above. And the above are the reasons I show up day after day to the practice sheet our teacher makes, and insist Lila pick up her fiddle and play her repetitions of "Allegro" and "Witches’ Dance," even when she responds by becoming boneless and falling onto the floor.
We parents also went around and shared what is hardest for us about Suzuki. Most said the conflicts arising around practice. I added that for me the biggest fear is the thought that plays in my head when Lila doesn’t want to practice and I am making her: I am destroying her love for music! And: how will she become the boss of her own musicality? (Most specifically, will she have the courage to compose?)
Why do I have these thoughts? Because sometimes I hear from other rock musicians that they were forced to take music lessons when they were kids and they hated "that classical sh*t."(Of course, they went on to become professional drummers… ) Or because my father said he hated having to practice his cello growing up (of course he plays guitar now, all the time, whenever he can get his hands on it, and no one makes him… ). Or that my daughter herself says, "I’m sick of practicing!" (But if I tell her she can quit, she immediately goes running for her instrument.)
Music is hard. There’s no getting around the fact that in order to play half decently one has to put in some hours. And most musicians have some kind of internal struggle with practicing. (Some don’t. My friend Pete Kennedy told me he still practices 3-5 hours a day, and I can’t imagine he "makes" himself do this. His guitar seems like an appendage of himself.) But anything worth having a lifelong relationship with takes time and perseverance and has hard spots. Somehow we (I) get the idea that music should be all pleasure. Nothing is all pleasure. Everything that matters in life takes work: getting to see a great view from the top of a mountain. Having an incredible relationship with another person. Writing a beautiful poem. Painting a picture. Creating a garden from a patch of weeds.
At the outset of lessons, neither parent nor child counted on the struggles that can often come between them during practices. First lessons often start after children have seen other children performing – or perhaps playing games in group class. The parent-child duo takes up an instrument with beautiful images of working together happily to produce delightful sounds. There’s usually a honeymoon period, but before long, parents begin to realize that the work of practicing resembles gardening with your bare hands more than arranging fresh flowers in a vase. (And don’t be fooled: even the parents who appear that have practices as graceful as an ikebana also run into a thorn now and then.)
An important truth from gardeners can help parents who practice with theirchildren: you can’t tug on a play to make it grow. You have to trust the process. But there’s nothing wrong with fertilizing, watering, and generally caring for a plant. That’s what gardeners do. Parents need to do it as well. In the process of tending beautiful flowers and nutritious vegetables, gardeners also encounter weeds. And pests. They also get some dirt under their fingers. In their own way, so will parents. (from “Building Violin Skills,” Ed Sprunger)
This beautiful quotation from the Suzuki teacher, violinist and psychotherapist Ed Sprunger hit me where I lived yesterday when Emily read this to us. As a writer and a teacher of writing, I realized the universality of this thought. You can’t tug on your writing, either. You can’t tug on your relationship. You are not the creator, and as a certain president recently said, no one is really self-made. We all need each other.
You have to leave space for the serendipitous, like your 11-year-old-budding-rock-star niece lighting a fire under your 4-year-old pre-Twinkler. For as soon as he’d finished listening to his cousin’s single (5 times in a row), Johnny, who just had his first lesson last Thursday, grabbed his tiny 1/16th size violin and started playing her pop song’s rhythm on the E string. We waited until the next day to inform him that, as a pre-Twinkler, he can’t actually touch the violin yet (this produces tears, but it also builds a powerful desire). So now, the violin’s hanging on the wall, next to his sister’s; under my guitar.
After you’ve been playing the violin for a couple of years, it starts to get tiresome when you feel limited to the scales, etudes, and few solos that your teacher gives you. If you’re a beginning to intermediate player who’s looking to build up a repertoire beyond the songs in the Suzuki books, here are some sheet music suggestions for you.
Miniature Masterpieces, arr. by W. Ambrosio (1920 305). This collection of 21 violin pieces – all in first position! – includes works by popular composers such as Saint-Saens and Wagner.
First Solos from the Classics by S. Applebaum (1851 010). Everything is in 1st position. Thebook includes famous melodies from an assortment of classical eras, all arranged for violin and piano.
Fun With Solos by Evelyn Avsharian (A70). Everything in this book stays in 1st and 3rdposition and is a source of fun and exciting recital repertoire.
Violin Favorites by Juchem/ Brochausen (1846 107). This collection of twelve violin piecestouches on great composers such as Bach, Mozart, and Dvorak.
Easy Classics for Violin by Peter Spitzer (1872 042).Here you will find popular classical melodies (such as “Ode to Joy” and “Can Can”) arranged simply for one or two violins.
First Solo Album by Harvey Whistler (1885 016). This collection of eleven short pieces for violin and piano keeps the violinist in first position and is great to use for recital repertoire.
This only begins to touch on the tremendously wide range of violin sheet music that we carry at SHAR! If you’re looking for something specific or you need more suggestions, please give us a call at 1.800.248.7427 – we are happy to talk with you!
If you or your child is just starting out on the violin: congratulations! Welcome to the string community! If you’re looking for your first instrument, though, things can be confusing. Trying to find the best violin can be a bewildering path to take. Here are some guidelines that should help you along your journey!
We're grateful to have Lucy Lewis, a trained Suzuki teacher and doctoral student in musical arts at the University of Iowa, share a series of blogs about her experiences at American Suzuki Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Every summer, the Suzuki Institute hosts a teacher training session at Stevens Point, and this summer Ms. Lewis was one of the teachers-in-training. This entry is Ms. Lewis's third and last about her training at Stevens Point, and we'll certainly miss having such a thoughtful and wise voice as Ms. Lewis's on our blog. Ms. Lewis shares quite a few insights from her teacher training, but we were particularly drawn to this gem: if we have a sincere love for our students and our goal as teachers is to develop their character and musicianship, we also need to tend to ourselves by "recharging and reconnecting with colleagues." Simply put, we can give more to our students when we persist in our lifelong development as teachers. please leave a comment below thanking Lucy for her blogs or send her an email at [email protected].
Are you or your child just starting to play the violin or viola? Here are a few necessary accessories that you will need as you start out on this exciting journey.
Without rosin your bow won’t work. It helps to create friction between the horsehair and the strings which, in turn, causes vibrations. There are a plethora of options to choose from, so here are a few guidelines.