This is the question Helen Brunner asked the three girls her Suzuki Book 7 repertoire class today.
I could almost see their eyes brighten and their pulses quicken. These may be 10- and 11-year-olds, but they are no ordinary kids. They know the value of an Amati! And they are among the few of us who understand it for its real value and not the number on its pricetag, though that is rather astounding as well!
Amelia Ransom was the first person to take the fiddle in hand, to play La Folia. After a few minutes, a smile crept across her face. It reminded me of meeting someone for the first time, someone whom everyone has told you is a wonderful person. You don't really know it until you introduce yourself and ask this person a question. When the person smiles at you and answers with the most amazing and unexpected response, then you know she is your friend!
Then Mia Buettner played the first movement of the Handel Sonata in F, which she had just worked on so effectively with Helen. It was so evident that she has a deep pool of musicality waiting to be tapped into, and Helen, in just three days, helped her iron out some rhythms, open up her vibrato and start following what Helen calls the “organic dynamics” of the piece. The Amati could show her even more about this, the way it responded to her.
I have a feeling that she had just these kinds of moments in mind, that she wanted to use it as a way of showing children their potential.
Would you let a room full of 10-year-olds students play your Amati, if you had one?
She would. What a wonderful gift.
Later in the day, Helen did the same thing again with eight children in her Suzuki Book 7-8 repertoire class. They had been working on standing perfectly straight and producing a beautiful tone with their violins, playing the Chorus from Judas Maccabeus.
“Let's try it on this violin,” said Helen, handing her Amati to the first person in the line.
“Should I just breathe?” asked the girl.
“It's just a normal, 1683 Amati violin,” Helen assured her. With that came the girl's Chorus, after which she handed the violin to the person next to her. Helen did not even touch the violin, she just let them hand it to each other.
“I know it's a bit big, but just go for it Christopher,” she said. “And use the whole bow.”
“By the way, you wouldn't think of dropping it as you pass it from person to person, would you?” she said, smiling.
When every child in the room had taken a turn with the Amati, she had them all stand up to play together.
“Now,” she said. “Nine Amatis in the room!”
I would indeed let the children play the Amati, if I were in her position.
Re hear and listen: I don't want to get hung up on the semantics because the meaning is clear. However, I've been told that the Chinese language has more than one ideogram for "listen," and one of them shows "listen" with "heart." I believe that's what Helen did.
Thanks for the photos of the students. They make the story seem so real and personal.
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Violinist.com Editor Laurie Niles is in New York to cover the biennial event at The Juilliard School, including classes by Brian Lewis and Sarah Chang.
Laurie Niles is from Pasadena, California. Biography
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