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Laurie Niles

February 8, 2005 at 7:26 AM

I must confess that I am not often carried away by the music that I hear during our weekly Suzuki recital hour with Suzuki Talent Education of Pasadena.

Not that I dislike listening to all the students; I find it a bit like scrutinizing a newborn baby: look, this one appears to have a whisp of blond hair, and a gentle manner, that Great Aunt Helen's nose I see? And what a strong little boy, with such a set of lungs!

In these young violinists I see little glimpses of what the future may hold: a graceful bow hand, a certain attention to a turn of phrase, a perfectly straight bow, a sense of pitch. There is usually at least one thing each child does well, sometimes many things. I always wonder, what will these snatches of potential grow into? Will the child continue, or quit?

I love teaching the very youngest of children, it is just somehow in my nature, so I'm often teaching the “Pre-Twinkle” students, between the ages of three and seven. They are tiny. Some can barely express themselves in words, much less in music! Many do not play yet; they come to class with a cardboard fiddle. We sing “The Rest Position” song, tap our fingers to learn their names, air bow songs to learn the difference between “up” and “down.”

Today a new boy, Charlie, came to class. He was making an effort to assimilate, as the other kids already knew the class routine. His mom said, “I'm sorry, he just doesn't know anything yet, this is his first class, and his first lesson was just a few days ago.”

“Don't worry!” I said, smiling, “We all start out that way here!”

During today's recital hour, a boy from our Pre-Twinkle class played a rhythm repeatedly on an open Eing along with the pianist playing “Twinkle,” in what had to be his first public appearance. Another played “Twinkle” along with her brother. Then came a little girl who played a Suzuki Books 2 piece. Then Liz Arbus, the teacher who leads our group, announced that an alumnus of our Suzuki program would play for us.

Out came member Jenni Thompson , whom I had not yet met, and still didn't get to meet, with all the chaos of the evening! She played the Lalo Symphonie Espanol with accompanist Sharon Wu.

Let's just say, from the opening on, I was smiling, big time. If Suzuki programs are supposed to turn out amusical audioanimatronic robots, this program has failed miserably. She played with such musicality, solid technique and maturity, it was just thoroughly enjoyable. The Lalo just sang in my head for the rest of the evening.

I have only been with this group for five years, so I didn't see Jenni grow up, as her other teachers, Liz Arbus and currently, Cheryl Scheidemantle, have. But I couldn't help imagining this lovely 18-year-old as a four-year-old girl, coming to class for the first time with a cardboard violin.

They all start out that way. But look where they can go!

Jenni will be performing the Lalo with the Pasadena Young Musicians Orchestra at 3:30 p.m., Feb. 27 at the Sexton Auditorium at Pasadena City College.

From Jenni Thompson
Posted on March 19, 2005 at 9:00 AM
Dear Laurie,

Thank you so much for that wonderful write up - and endorsement for my concert! We will meet someday shortly, I'm sure - it will be impossible I think for our paths to remain separate for much longer, with as many things that we have in common! Best wishes.

From John Moir
Posted on March 19, 2005 at 2:03 PM
Laurie, first of all, thanks for 'standing up' for me on another discussion board- you know which one! (grin) Secondly, yes yes yes! Suzuki is a wonder. My son at 6.5 is now looking like Heifetz when he concentrates on playing properly, and he is 'doing it'- even though it is only Twinkle. This week was one of those 'major breakthrough' weeks- we advanced to "Lightly Row"! (LOLOL) I think that the potential for giving music to the next generation is clearly in evidence in Suzuki, and I am so glad to be a part of it. Thanks for the observations. 'Twinkles rule!'

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