Violinist and longtime teacher Alice Joy Lewis, a pioneer in the Suzuki movement, died on Tuesday. She was 77.
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.”
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."
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 Violinist.com member Mary Ellen Goree, who was pictured as a small child in the article below.
"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.
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