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Laurie Niles

Let's get up and dance!

May 10, 2006 at 5:51 AM

For the second year in a row my Suzuki group dropped formality in favor of fun for our final concert of the year last week. We asked the kids to show up in jeans and STEP (our group's name) T-shirts. We invited an Irish band to show them its stuff, as well as an Irish dance instructor to teach them to dance. Last year we did this with Klezmer music, and several years before we held a Mariachi workshop. We want the kids to experience the many ways the violin has evolved in various cultures!

The kids had been learning music for this occasion all semester long: the Irish Washerwoman, Swallowtail Jig, Bile Them Cabbage Down and more. This presented a unique challenge for the band, a professional group so steeped in their traditions that it wasn't easy to explain how to make our extremely vanilla rendition of the tunes more like their highly sophisticated ones! But this is where a group of teachers came in, we did our best to extract and break down some Celtic decorations and mannerisms for the kids to try with the pieces.

While one group of kids worked with the Irish band, the other group took a dance lesson, learning some traditional steps that go along with the kind of music we'd learned. I never realized how hard it is to keep one's upper body straight and arms locked down while doing a lot of fancy footwork, a la Riverdance! The dance instructor showed us a jig (I think!) as well as a skipping step, and these musical kids caught on fast.

After this came a large pizza party (hey, you try to get kids to eat corned beef and boiled potatoes), and after the pizza party, the final concert of the year, a Suzuki play-in combined with an Irish jam session, culminating in, of course, the Twinkle Variations.

The band was fantastic, and I enjoyed the fact that the fiddler held the violin quite in front of her, definitely holding it with the left hand, with a very pronated bow grip. It's good for the kids to see that there are different ways, even though we teachers will continue to work on their “set up” in our tradition! Her bow inflections and Celtic decorations were obviously the product of a lifetime, so ingrained and easy they were for her. Then at one point she got up and danced, too! This is not to mention the rest of the band, a drummer playing a goatskin drum (which could change pitches), the flutist and guitarist. The kids and parents clapped and smiled ear to ear.

What shall we do next year? The possibilties are endless!

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on May 11, 2006 at 6:33 AM
Laurie, that sounds like so much fun. I've taught Celtic, Appalachian, Jewish, and Russian music to my students, but they're somewhat older than yours. Step dancing is, indeed, quite difficult. One of my violin students is also learning step dancing. I think it's great to expose violin students to a lot of different kinds of music to broaden their outlook. They may fall in love with something new.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 12, 2006 at 4:20 AM
You never know what's going to capture a student's imagination!
From Chris Wendt
Posted on May 13, 2006 at 4:16 PM
Laurie -

My two sons have been taking Suzuki lessons for the past several years, and their instructor has developed a group devoted to exploring the types of music you've just described. The Bow-Dacious String Band, under the direction of Robin Kearton, has explored Irish, Klezmer, Cajun, Latin, old time, blues, jazz and pop music styles. They've collaborated with a broad range of musical groups, and gained invaluable performing experience in the process. Their latest concert was a jazz collaboration, which was interrupted by tornado sirens. Not to be deterred, the students jammed while hiding out in stairwells and service corridors, then resumed the concert when the threat passed.

In addition to directing this group throughout the year, Robin holds a "World-On-Aing" music camp each summer. You can check it out at Personally, I've found that my boys' musical ability has grown by leaps and bounds since this group began. They still pursue their Suzuki studies and school orchestra endeavors, but the string band has helped them truly become musicians.


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