Remembering Violinist and Suzuki Pioneer Alice Joy Lewis (1942-2020)

February 26, 2020, 3:28 PM · Violinist and longtime teacher Alice Joy Lewis, a pioneer in the Suzuki movement, died on Tuesday. She was 77.

Alice Joy Lewis
Violinist and Suzuki pioneering teacher Alice Joy Lewis.

Lewis was one of the first Americans to study with Dr. Shinichi Suzuki at the Talent Education Institute in Matsumoto, Japan, and she went on to train more than 1,000 teachers in Suzuki pedagogy as a registered Teacher Trainer for the Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA) and a Suzuki Teacher Trainer for Asia.

"My Mom was an inspiration to me and countless others," said her son, violinist Brian Lewis. "She was a dedicated mom, grandmother, wife, teacher, visionary, mentor and friend whose love touched so many lives. Her unwavering belief in the power of music inspired numerous generations of teachers and students; I know her legacy lives on in each person whose life she touched.”

Alice Joy and Brian Lewis
Brian and Alice Joy Lewis.

Lewis served on the SAA Board of Directors and on the SAA Teacher Development and Institute Committees, and she taught at Suzuki World Conventions in Dublin, Ireland; Matsumoto, Japan; and Adelaide, Australia. In 1996 she received the Excellence in Teaching Award from the SAA, and in 2008, she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award – the highest recognition given by the Kansas Chapter of the American String Teachers’ Association. She also received the Suzuki Chair Award at the American Suzuki Institute in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

A native of Kansas City, Kansas, Lewis started playing the violin when she was nine years old, as both her mother and grandmother played the violin.

"My great grandmother immigrated from Poland in the early 1900’s, and the only item she brought with her was her violin," Brian Lewis said. "Mom grew up listening on the radio to broadcasts of the Chicago Symphony, and music was an important part of our family’s life. She loved playing on her Carl Becker violin and was still teaching her students the week before she was hospitalized."

Lewis attended Kansas University where she was a double major in Violin Performance and Music Education, studying with Raymond Cerf. She was married to Dr. Tom B. Lewis, a dedicated husband and organic chemistry professor at Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kansas.

Lewis first met Shinichi Suzuki at Project Super in 1966 at the Eastman School of Music. That same year, Lewis founded the Ottawa Suzuki Strings. Lewis served as the program's administrator while also teaching violin and viola lessons, ensembles, group classes, and directing performances. Ottawa Suzuki Strings attracted students from 17 different surrounding communities for an ambitious program that over the years included recording four CD’s as well as touring all over the world, including tours of England, Ireland, Puerto Rico, Australia, and the United States, with a performance at the United Nations. In 1991, Ottawa Suzuki Strings musicians were named Kansas Ambassadors by Kansas Governor Joan Finney.

In a 1967 article in the Ottawa Herald, Lewis said that she enjoyed teaching small children because they are "spontaneous and free" and "you never know what's going to happen next." She also said that the aim of her Suzuki program was not necessarily to produce concert artists but "to create people who are able to participate in the arts and become more human because they know something about the arts."

Alice Joy Lewis and Juilliard pedagogue Dorothy DeLay
Alice Joy Lewis and Juilliard pedagogue Dorothy DeLay.

That said, Lewis's teaching did create concert artists and professional musicians - among them her son Brian, who was a longtime assistant to Juilliard violin pedagogue Dorothy DeLay is now a Professor of Violin at the University of Texas's Butler School of Music; and longtime member Mary Ellen Goree, who was pictured as a small child in the article below.

Alice Joy Lewis
Alice Joy Lewis teaching one of her first Suzuki classes in 1967 at Ottawa University. Third from left is member Mary Ellen Goree, in pigtails. Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Herald.

"She was profoundly dedicated to Dr. Suzuki’s ideas about teaching children," said retired University of Denver Violin Professor James Maurer, who along with Jackie Maurer were also early Suzuki teachers who worked with Lewis. "She had a passion that was irresistible. Everyone loved Alice Joy! She certainly had a tremendous influence in spreading Suzuki’s message that ‘every child can’ throughout the United States. No child was left behind, every child could learn with love!"

Kathy Langston, who is now director of Denver Talent Education, said that she met Alice Joy Lewis after being one of Brian Lewis’s first college students in 1997 at The Hartt School, where she also studied Suzuki Pedagogy with Teri Einfeldt.

"I met Alice Joy at a SAA conference in Chicago in 1999, and as soon as I met her and watched her teach I was drawn in," Langston said. "It was the same feeling I had studying with Brian; there is this light that shines through them. It’s in her name, JOY. There is something mesmerizing about the way she could turn the toughest situation into a positive result, and with the biggest smile and encouragement, so you just wanted to do everything she said! I feel very lucky to have experienced that with both her and Brian. Her light will shine on."

Lewis is survived by two sons, Brian Lewis and Stephen Lewis, and daughter Beth Lewis.

Please share your memories in the comments section.

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February 26, 2020 at 10:20 PM · Haley and i are so very sad to hear of Alice Joy’s passing. She was more than an icon of violin instruction. To us, she was both mentor and friend, a grandmotherly influence. The world has lost a wonderful soul who has had a lasting impact on thousands and she will be greatly missed. While we are sad, our hearts go out to her family.

February 26, 2020 at 11:15 PM · Sending hugs and prayers for the Lewis' Family!

Jennifer and Brooke

February 27, 2020 at 12:43 AM · The Albright family sends its deepest condolences to the Lewis family. We lived in Ottawa during the early 90's and knew we were privileged to have our children benefit from her inspiring teaching. What a great legacy of musical passion and skills she leaves behind.

February 27, 2020 at 01:24 AM · Tom, Jerry and I are so sad to hear about Alice Joy. You have our deepest sympathy. She was a lovely person. With love, Jerry and Gloria Roach

February 27, 2020 at 01:32 AM · My teacher trainer mentor. There was something so authentic about her. She was the embodiment of love and passion. A great speaker and teacher and teacher trainer. I am profoundly sad to hear the news.

February 27, 2020 at 01:35 AM · Mrs. Lewis taught me how to play violin at Ottawa jr. high, I will always remember her vibrant personality and love for the strings and students. Play on Mrs. Lewis, you will always be a part of my love for music and life..

February 27, 2020 at 01:57 AM · She was the reason my life trajectory was inspired to become a professional musician- and more importantly, she gave me a gift I will always have to share with the world. And for that I am forever grateful.

-Michaela Borth

February 27, 2020 at 02:00 AM · I had many children who studied violin with Mrs. Lewis. She was love personified. I remember telling her after one of my oldest daughter’s lessons that I was paying for lessons on parenting with love but my child was also learning the violin at the same time. Her life impacted my children - my whole family - so much. We are forever thankful for the gift of Alice Joy Lewis. And we rejoice to know we will all be playing music together one day!

February 27, 2020 at 02:12 AM · I knew when I started my two year old daughter with Alice Joy that she was an excellent teacher. Little did I know that she was also giving my daughter her future career and I would have a friendship that would last 37 years. We laughed together so many times as we worked on the Ottawa Suzuki Institute, shared many travels together, and comforted each other during those times that life threw us curve balls. Alice Joy helped me to be a better parent and a better person. I feel so grateful for having known her and her family. Prayers for her family at this difficult time. Alice Joy left a legacy of love of music and music excellence that reverberates through teachers and students and friends all over the world. As Dr. Suzuki said, “Where love is deep, much can be accomplished.” Much was accomplished, Alice Joy Lewis, thank you.

February 27, 2020 at 02:27 AM · We were so very fortunate to have her for a Master Class at Stevens Point Camp for two consecutive years. She truly was the “Mr. Rogers” of Suzuki Music Education. We will miss her smile, her encouragement and her wisdom.

Julia and SarahPearl Anderson

February 27, 2020 at 02:32 AM · I started taking lessons from her while she was still at KU. Many memories of OHS orchestra, her passion to teach, and her love of music. She not only taught us but thousands of others. She has joined God's orchestra and will always be sharing her love of music. Prayers for all the family.

February 27, 2020 at 02:49 AM · Nobody could have imagined, way back in 1966, how that small single class of six little girls and one tiny boy would ultimately blossom into the Ottawa Suzuki Strings, or how many lives would be changed through Alice Joy's inspired teaching and ceaseless, dedicated efforts to bring the joy of making music to so many. I consider it one of the most profound blessings in my life to have been in that class. Alice Joy's mark on the world will live on not only through her family and her own students but through her students' students, and so on for many years to come.

February 27, 2020 at 03:03 AM · My first year as a music teacher I was hired as a choir director at Ottawa Junior High. Just before school started I was informed I would be teaching orchestra. I can in no way play a string instrument! Much less teach beginners in the same class as intermediate students. I was lucky enough to have a class of three advanced string players that included Brian. I think he was 15 at the time. Alice Joy provides string trio music for us to form a chamber group with the advanced students. I convinced the district to hire her to help me get the intermediate orchestra started and she continued for two years teaching the beginner students. I would have ruined them! She truly did take a bad situation and made it such a learning experience for me. I credit her with starting that orchestra and I will never forget all she did to help me. Had it not been for her I probably would have quit but she was a great inspiration. I continued teaching music and am now retired. But I will never forget that special time.

February 27, 2020 at 03:14 AM · I have such fond memories of Alice. She always had a smile on her face and always made me feel right at home while at camp. Her light exuded and I know it lives on through so many that she has touched.

February 27, 2020 at 03:24 AM · I loved my teacher training with Alice Joy Lewis. She influenced me as much as the other teacher trainers I worked with (John Kendall, William Starr, Walter Haderer, and many others). What was magical about her was her attention to details in the repertoire as yet, still being positive in attitude. She trained hundreds of teachers from around the country.

Her Institute was outstanding. I brought my child for 16 years to it (and that included Brian Lewis's "Young Artist Program". I sent students to the Institute, and I teach in Minnesota.

Many thousands of parents also benefitted from her lectures on parenting.

We are a better community thanks to her vision and her understanding of the method.

February 27, 2020 at 03:55 AM · My son Andrew worked with her for three years during the summer string session, and she and Brian showed him and our entire family nothing but love. He cried the day he had to leave, he loved it so much. Alice Joy will shine on in my family’s music and writing and life for decades to come. She was and remains a beautiful person.

February 27, 2020 at 04:09 AM · Alice Joy and I were SAI sisters at KU. She was very inspiring even back then. My husband and I, and she and Tom were one of the few married couples so we became close friends. She and Tom were both wonderful people who lived their faith. We lost touch over the years except for a quick encounter at KMEA several

Years ago. I wish we had kept in touch. I’m sorry for your loss. The Lewis family will be in my prayers.

Cheri White

February 27, 2020 at 12:55 PM · I am sad to know the world no longer has her. She was incandescent and although I never took strings from her being around her influenced my efforts in piano. I would talk to her and Brian and Beth (never knew Stephen) when I was on my way to or from piano lessons with Dr. Thom Gouwens, and saw their joy. To watch Brian teach now or perform is to see that open expressed joy. She was amazing!

February 27, 2020 at 01:31 PM · Seven years ago I embarked on the Suzuki journey with my oldest, wondering what I got myself into. Knowing nothing and feeling quite overwhelmed, I planned on leaving the week of American Suzuki Institute early. However, I made myself attend one more parent lecture.... it happened to by one led by Alice Joy Lewis. I’ll never forget that moment as THE moment that tipped the scales of deciding to stick it out and it’s a decision I haven’t regretted since. Alice Joy taught that the Suzuki method was more than a stringed instrument — it is raising a beautiful human being, just as way Dr. Suzuki said. But with her always-radiant face exuding joy and genuine love to those around her, I truly believed what she taught. It has not only taught me to believe in and raise my children through the Suzuki method, but also has made me a better person. Thank you, Alice Joy. Memory eternal.

February 27, 2020 at 03:25 PM · This beautifully-written article reminds me of the profound difference one person can make in the lives of others. (And how wonderful that Mary Ellen is in that adorable photograph!)

February 27, 2020 at 04:31 PM · Alice Joy and I grew up together in KCK. She was a year older than me. Both were concertmasters in our senior years in the orchestra at Wyandotte high school. We both played in the KC Youth Orchestra and together in duets. Went to the same church.She was a marvelous violinist as well as a marvelous person. We always enjoyed seeing each other as the years went by. I particularly enjoyed listening to Brian when he performed with the Topeka Symphony Orchestra of which I was a member. My condolences to the Lewis family. She will always be in my heart ! Dave Azwell

February 27, 2020 at 06:04 PM · If I could name the most influential people throughout my whole life, Mrs Lewis was one of the most important. I went to her music camp from the age of 5 and met my best friend Beth Lewis, her daughter, there. I also got to meet her son Brian Lewis who, along with his mom, became my musical inspiration. Their family means more to me than I can express in words. I would not be the musician (or person) I am today without the love for music and dedication to my craft that Mrs Lewis instilled in me from a very young age. She even took me on my very first tour when I was 11 and I got to play in cathedrals and concert halls all over England...Australia...soo many places. The best experiences of my life. But not only me...she touched the lives of everyone she met, everyone she taught, everyone she smiled and hugged...she was a magical human being and I am FOREVER grateful to her and her family. I love you Alice Joy. Thankyou for being my second mom. Thankyou for teaching me to love love learning. I am always and forever, an Ottawa Suzuki String! Love, Eliza James (your Elizabeth #2)

February 27, 2020 at 08:03 PM · So sad! Such an amazing woman. Alice Joy taught me violin back in the 70's. Her studio was in the attic space of one of the oldest buildings on campus. There was an owl that would sit outside on the window ledge during my lessons. I can still remember little Brian running around the building as he waited for his Mom to finish for the night.

Thankfully, our 3 children (Molly, Emma, and Patrick) were blessed to experience Alice Joy's Joy through several summers at the Ottawa Institute.

Alice Joy, you will be missed!


Moira Vogt

February 27, 2020 at 08:23 PM · Yes, Tom Lewis was my college chem prof, met his wife briefly way back when..have been living here in Ottawa for 10 years now and have enjoyed Alice Joy and their grown son Brian's "violining" for many anybody can get music out of those boxes is beyond me. Thanks for your example..the Lord was blessed by your life..Dave Hale..Ottawa

February 28, 2020 at 03:31 AM · Dear Brian and Family, I am shocked and very sad to hear of your mother's passing. She was an inspiration to me and thousands of Suzuki teachers, students and families. Her encouragement enriched our lives in an unforgettable way.

Sending love to you, Bella and your family!

Mary Cay Neal

February 28, 2020 at 03:38 AM · I had her as a teacher at Ottawa University. Years later she was a clinician at a Suzuki workshop in Parsons, KS and my oldest son had her a a teacher. I always enjoyed talking to her and reminiscing about days at Ottawa. She will surely be missed. A beautiful person! Don Cunningham Parsons, Kansas

February 28, 2020 at 12:01 PM · Marvelous tribute, Laurie. Beautifully done. Mrs. Lewis does sound like a remarkable person. I've never met her or her son. And wow, Brian sure does look like his mom! That's always wonderful.

February 28, 2020 at 05:40 PM · She was such an amazing teacher! I loved going to her institute in Ottawa growing up!

February 28, 2020 at 08:08 PM · Alice Joy came to Denver awhile back and taught a weekend course called "From Twinkle to Tchaikovsky." I learned SO much from her in those two days! She was warm, welcoming and humble. She freely shared some of the mistakes she made in her own teaching, and told of the lessons she learned from those. She left us with a feeling of hope and increased desire to do more than only teach music. Deep life lessons were sprinkled into her teaching, and watching her actually teach students and put those principles to work, was life-changing. Her legacy will live on in the thousands of teachers and students she touched!

February 29, 2020 at 04:58 PM · At First Baptist Church in Kansas City Kansas my husband and I were well acquainted with the Mackish family. Alice was in my Sunday School class and Baptist Youth Fellowship. She was among a group that I took to church camp at Green Lake Wisconsin. That group was a very high powered group of the most beautiful young people you would want to know. They were all connected by music, by church fellowship, and by love for each other. They remained Friends for many years. Alice and many in that group played musical instruments in church and at school. They loved to sing, read the scripture and other books in our Quest Group. Such discussions. They really kept us on our toes as sponsors and we often sought out help from the professors at the Baptist Seminary. Alice Joy continued her lifetime journey of seeking knowledge and sharing that knowledge with others. We rejoice in her beautiful life. If we listen carefully, we will hear her playing still.

Anna Mae Greiner

March 2, 2020 at 03:21 PM · My condolences to family and friends of Alice Joy. I was a student of Margery Aber at Stevens Point and she hand picked all of the teacher trainers I studied with at the American Suzuki Institute in the early 1980s. Alice Joy was always on her list for me and I must say she was my favorite. She had a beautiful heart and taught with much love and kindness as well as solid pedagogy. I still have notes from her classes in my books and will always be grateful for her influence in my life and teaching.

March 2, 2020 at 04:03 PM · Brian, Steve and Beth, you have heard many tributes of how Alice Joy inspired music to so many. They are well deserved. Alice Joy asked me to teach theory because she wanted to develop more understanding and skills for students. I thank her for sharing more than music. Harold and I were with Tom and Alice Joy in the Joy Class evening discussions as members of First Baptist in Ottawa. All of us grew so much personally through those experience Most precious to me was the friendship of Alice Joy. God certainly used her loving spirit to bless so many. I'm sure God looked down and said her life was well lived. May you feel her loving presence always! God has been good to all of us through her.

Vicki Popp

March 2, 2020 at 08:03 PM · We are sorry we could not attend the service today. We are not well at our house and unable to travel. But, we do remember the early beginnings of Ottawa Suzuki as we fostered its growth together with Alice Joy in the halls of Tauy Jones Hall at Ottawa University. Alice Joy you were a faithful servant all your life and you deserve this blessed rest.

Stanley and Alice Jo DeFries

March 3, 2020 at 01:45 AM · It was a beautiful memorial today. The gift of love flowed and not a dry eye was seen. This beautiful woman changed the lives of so many people. I am honored to be counted as one.

Scott Nance

March 3, 2020 at 02:44 AM · Dearest Alice Joy! You and your family greatly influenced our family through your love of music and life! By providing a safe space to learn and love, you taught us more than simply lessons in music-making. Twenty-five years ago, you helped to guide our family toward a holistic life of music of the heart, and the journey continues today. Your unwavering faith of humankind influenced us in life and death. May you Rest In Peace with Tom as faithful servants of God. Much love, the Purcell family

March 3, 2020 at 06:18 AM · It was indeed a beautiful service full of inspiring music and eloquent tributes. At the end of the service, sixty musicians ranging in age from children to gray-haired veteran teachers and performers, all with some connection to Alice Joy and the Ottawa Suzuki Strings, crowded together at the front of the sanctuary to perform three hymns and the most meaningful Twinkle I have ever been part of. Alice Joy could not have had a more appropriate memorial.

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