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Laurie Niles

June 25, 2004 at 6:11 AM

I’m currently at Snowmass, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, attending the Colorado Suzuki Institute, and frankly, I’ve never seen so much masterful teaching going on in one place.

Yes, masterful.

Normally we might reserve that word for teachers like Gingold or Galamian or any number of teachers around the world who teach, or taught, on the highest level. But there also are those who teach on the highest level for the youngest people, and their skills as communicators and their knowledge of violin technique are tremendous.

I knew this before I arrived; I started my Suzuki pedagogy training in 1996 after deciding that I wanted a few more tools for helping my youngest beginners. I learned more than I could have imagined, and I realized that to teach a beginner, one must have an eye to where that beginner is eventually headed; say, the Bach Double, the Mendelssohn Concerto or maybe the Tchaikovsky.

Most who reach the upper echelons of the music world do so with the benefit of hundreds of hours of work with their teachers, ideally ones who know a great deal about violin playing and care even more about helping people. I applaud the Suzuki world’s efforts to cultivate teachers who are sensitive to the needs of children, knowledgeable in the repertoire they teach and committed to an encouraging, rather than destructive, approach.

This week I am taking Violin Book 6 teacher training with Ellie LeRoux of Longmont, Colorado.

On our first day, Ellie gave us a book that she had compiled for the benefit of her private students and for us. It included detailed lists of every technique needed for each piece in Book 6, an annotated copy of her own Book 6, a list of dozens of supplementary solo pieces, etudes and chamber works for a student at this level, annotated copies of a good number of those pieces, dozens of technical exercises to use to help a student play these pieces properly, a dictionary of all the musical terms used in Book 6, examples of suggested daily practice routines, one for each of the books from beginning students playing Twinkle through Book 9, a list of suggested reading, hundreds of ideas for group class, copies of articles she’d written, inspirational quotes….

This, to me, is a staggering act of generosity, and it is the Suzuki way: share ideas and use the best ones.

She credited everyone for their ideas, and for the ones she came up with herself, she wrote underneath, “Permission to Copy.”

She assembled this tremendous body of knowledge from her own wonderful ideas as well as from the ideas of Shinichi Suzuki himself, Jim and Jackie Maurer, John Kendall, Bill Starr and many, many others.

In addition to the 15 hours I spend in class with Ellie, I will be observing eight ( and probably more) hours of master classes, group classes and lectures given by some 90 faculty members from all over the United States and the world.

I am already a reasonably accomplished violinist, and yes, I could teach these pieces without anyone telling me how to do so. But after this, I certainly will aspire to teach them on a new level, with an awareness of where the student has been, where they are going and with hundreds of new ideas about ways to get there. I have so much more to offer my students, and I can thank these generous people for sharing their ideas. And for allowing me to stand on their shoulders.

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