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Laurie Niles

Fifty-two colors in this rainbow

October 16, 2006 at 1:37 AM

This week I met my 52 new students.

I'm already extremely proud of every single one of them; look what they did...


They made their very own violins. A group of fellow parents at McKinley School in Pasadena had taped 55 rulers onto 55 egg cartons; I drew the violin [PDF for 8.5x14 page], and they provided the color.

As you can see, they are going to provide me with quite a lot of color!

Here's the plan I came up with, for those of you who are curious about what a person does when presented with the task of starting a Suzuki-based violin program for 52 first graders, "next week!":

They'll have two 45-minute-long classes a week: a "lesson class" with about 15 kids in each one, and a "group class" with about 30 kids. (So I'm teaching four lesson classes and two group classes.)

Even though I had only a week to come up with a plan, I had some good brains to pick, particularly that of the extraordinary teacher, Cheryl Scheidemantle, who has run a similar program for slightly older children at Polytechnic School in Pasadena for some 18 years. She's the one who told me that one class a week is not enough, it only works if you do two. So two, I'll do.

She also reminded me to go slow, and build a reverence for the delicacy and care of a violin. And have rules, lots and lots of rules, for kids!

So each day last week, I gathered my small charges and we walked to the room. But we did not enter. I first numbered them off and told them that their numbers were their rows. Then, we walked in and made rows. We practiced how to bow to each other and say "good morning!" I ran them through how to stand while playing, then played them Twinkle. My lovely assistant, Robert, helped me distribute the violins to color and crayons. (He gets parent volunteer credit!) As the kids colored and listened to the Suzuki Book 1 tape, I called them up individually to be measured for their "real" violins.


I sent them home with lots of info: What size real violin to get, where, when class will be and a page on the Suzuki philosophy [PDF], boiled down to its essence.

There are certainly challenges ahead, like how to distribute 16 violins to the more-than-16 kids who aren't able to go rent a violin. But I'm so excited, this is such an amazing opportunity, to teach this rainbow assortment of children.

When they finished their violins, we had a little art show. I hadn't planned this, but I always like to have one activity that brings out the individual in every group class. So we showed them, one by one, commenting on each violin's special qualities. Then I had each row take their violins to the cabinet, slowly and carefully, slowly and carefully... And they did; they walked slowly, handling their new violins like they were made of thin glass, laying them carefully in the cabinet.

All those little violins are sleeping in that cabinet now, waiting for the new week.

From John Chew
Posted on October 16, 2006 at 1:46 AM
This is amazing! Good luck with the first lessons!
From Patricia Baser
Posted on October 16, 2006 at 2:07 AM
That is awesome-I love the violin pattern! Good for you!
From Gabriel Kastelle
Posted on October 16, 2006 at 2:01 AM
"a page on the Suzuki philosophy, boiled down to its essence", you said...

Laurie-- I know you're some kind of dual-major music / journalism writing genius, so I'm curious whether you could say a few words about how you write briefly (!) about something you care about; and who's reading that (target audience), and how that affects the writing...

[[Of course I'm projecting-- as I recently now have larger groups of younger students than usual, and I was just pressured into writing for them, which I had so far resisted.... (Ludwig Wittgentstein would be proud of me!)-- though, it was good... ]]

From Karin Lin
Posted on October 16, 2006 at 2:43 AM
What beautiful violins! Thanks for sharing with us.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 16, 2006 at 2:58 AM
Laurie, that`s great.
The rules thing made me think of how I often do things here in Japan. I hate rules (;)) so I try and think of it more in terms of how kids need some kind of structur ein order to grow and be free. You know, just so they are cvomfortable enough to fly. One of the things I do in big classes is have a clear lesson sequence that has names and a huge cardboard picture of a bus which chugs along underneath the names which are always written up on the blackboard. So two class leaders come to the front and start moving the bus along to the nextpart. Then they have a kind of goofy `here we go shout` which is repsonded to with gestures and then the leaders shoud out its `time` and everybodtyshouts back Okey dokey.
Idle thoughts ,
From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 16, 2006 at 4:05 AM
Gabriel, You look whomever you are talking to straight in the eyes and say what you want to say, from the heart. Writing is no different from speaking; you just have to know how to find your audience's eyes and know your own heart.

Buri, I love the bus idea!

From Bill Townsend
Posted on October 16, 2006 at 5:04 AM
Fabulous, just fabulous. I love seeing youngsters exposed like this. The color and creativity each displayed in making their violin makes the project so worthwhile. Bravo!
From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 16, 2006 at 5:07 AM
I just put up the template for the egg carton violin coloring page, and the Suzuki philosophy statement. Teachers, please feel free to use anything that helps your program!
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on October 16, 2006 at 10:06 AM
Laurie, this is fantastic! You have taken a very large piece of work and turned it into an adventure. I'm excited reading about it. Please keep updating us.

PS. I admire your energy. Keep it up!

From Emily Grossman
Posted on October 16, 2006 at 5:08 PM
I am in complete awe of anyone who can teach 52 kids at the same time.
From al ku
Posted on October 16, 2006 at 5:16 PM
what an enviable position you are in,,,influencing 50 kids at once about violin!? wow.

interesting to see that while adults are busy emulating the varnish of the cremonese, the kids have their own ideas..hmm. thank you for not giving them each a brown pen!

From Linda Lerskier
Posted on October 16, 2006 at 7:48 PM
Aww! Buy me an egg carton so I can make one too!

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