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Laurie Niles

Studying Mozart concertos as Suzuki pedagogy

June 13, 2006 at 6:39 AM

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. -- I wasn't sure what to expect, studying Mozart concertos as "Suzuki pedagogy."

The last two of the 10 Suzuki violin books are nothing but Mozart violin concerti. Book 9 is Concerto No. 5 in A major, and Book 10 is Concerto No. 4 in D major.

In some ways this is the easiest course I've taken, because it's not new repertoire to me. Much of the rest of the Suzuki repertoire was, having not grown up with the system. The pieces needed not only to be learned, but many needed to be memorized, to the point that one could lead a group of children in playing them.

But Mozart? I first studied Mozart in high school. My most memorable Mozart experiences from that time period were: not getting into youth orchestra as a 7th grader playing Mozart 3 (way too young!), and my parents and sister asking me, after I'd been studying the fifth concerto for something like a year, "When will it actually sound....good?"

I played Mozart again in college, where a whole new layer of detail was revealed to me. Then after college, in the course of doing many auditions, I went to a number of coaches for help with Mozart, only to find even more detail, even more layers. And I've taught it. It's possible to spend an entire lesson on just the Adagio section of Mozart 5.

So in my 10th year of teaching Suzuki violin, my 14th year of teaching, I officially arrive now at the pedagogy course for Mozart concerti. What was this going to be? Would I be told that I must revise my Mozart so as to use the fingerings and bowings put forth in the Suzuki books?

My teacher for the week is Mark Bjork, who is a professor at the University of Minnesota as well as another pioneer in the American Suzuki movement. His mentor was Josef Gingold.

"Mozart was a fine violinist who wrote these concertos for his own use," Bjork said to me and the two other teacher trainees in the seminar. "I think he knew what he was doing."

We spent the next two hours poring over the urtext (unedited edition) of Mozart 5, and also even checking the urtext against a copy of Mozart's original manuscript, which Bjork had procured from the U.S. Library of Congress.

We pondered why certain editions had been edited in certain ways, talked over the differences, discussed performance practice during the classical era, and also the performance practices of the more showy 19th century soloists.

And ultimately, he left us to decide.

For all its reputation as a movement that spits out non-thinking clones, it appears that the goal of this Suzuki pedagogy class will be to show me ways to find the answers on my own, and to encourage me to do so. If one is teaching Mozart, then it's time for that.

In other news, we are pleased to announce our journalism intern for the summer, Caeli Veronica Smith. (You might have read her blog under Alicelizard or Caeli S.) Caeli also has worked as a roving reporter for the syndicated public radio show, From The Top, and as a writer in The Philadelphia Inquirer and Teen Strings Magazine. She will write articles for the front page of, as well as a number of 'Violin Help' articles, starting with a great guide to summer music programs.

Welcome aboard, Caeli!

From Kelsey Z.
Posted on June 13, 2006 at 3:21 PM
Sounds like you are having a really interesting time, Laurie! I'll have to come knock on your door and get your opinions on Mozart afterwards! :D

Caeli, the summer program page looks great! Having been to Domaine Forget (which I adored and had an absolute blast at!) there is also an addition a chamber music program aside from the strings and new music programs. Great program, amazing faculty there. My only concern is that the website is misleading about how far out of Quebec city it is. If you drive like the Quebecors (30+ over the speed limit) then you'll get there in 90 minutes, if you drive closer to the speed limit and are new to the road, you probably want to count on 2 hours, not including time getting distracted by some on the most amazing land-marks that I've ever seen. The road once you get into the Domaine Forget area also gets a little adventourous.

I highly recommend Domaine Forget. Amazing experience and it's well designed for those who wish to focus on one area or who want to try a number of things.

From Karin Lin
Posted on June 13, 2006 at 5:31 PM
Yay for Caeli! Play, speak, act, there anything this girl can't do? ;)
From Linda Lerskier
Posted on June 13, 2006 at 7:01 PM
Woah Caeli! Maybe I should be calling you master! :P

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