Note: This letter was submitted as an article for the Upper Midwest Flute Association newsletter in 2014. At the time, I had no administrative involvement with the camp and attended only as a trainee.
All this past spring, I felt equal parts excited and nervous about June. Suzuki Teacher Training would commence at the picturesque Lake Sylvia and I was eager to have a week to focus on flute and teaching in a new way by starting Book One. However, joining me for the adventure would be my 17-month old daughter, Kyrié, and I was concerned her presence would make things overly difficult. Thankfully, the class itself was every bit as engaging and rewarding as I’d hoped and bringing a toddler along for the ride turned out to have its own bright spots.
Suzuki training started with a few days of class time, where we met our teacher, David Gerry, perhaps the only person in the world who has played in a symphony, spent decades teaching preschoolers, and also holds a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. All of us were very lucky to learn from someone with his breadth of knowledge and experience. He also shared some of his recent research, focusing mostly on infants’ musical cognition, which is fascinating reading—we all know how powerful and instinctual music is but his papers provide concrete demonstrations of just how early and how rapidly music has an effect. In one study, merely bouncing a young toddler to music in time with a strange adult prompted the child to pick up and retrieve a dropped crayon or toy for the adult while children who were bounced out of sync took the object for themselves.
Having so much class time before going to the camp itself was a wonderful way to focus on the new elements of Suzuki teaching and the demands of teaching much younger children than the typical 4-6th grade beginning flutist. As I tend to be an analytical sort, I was particularly struck by the seemingly endless, vivid imagery, games, and visual aids David had for every situation. Every aspect of flute-playing was personified—often by a cute, named animal friend—so that a bird might flutter around to check your posture or you might get a sprinkling of magical Flute Dust delivered by hidden, tinkling chimes to help you play your best. To introduce the concept of dynamics, we played “Hide the Shark”: As one person searched, the rest of the group looped an easy Book One tune, growing louder and quieter as they moved closer and farther away.
When we moved to the camp itself, we got to see many of these ideas in practice in lessons, small group classes for the younger students, and a larger mixed group for all the Suzuki flutists attending. The mixed class, run by Wendy Stern, moved deftly between advanced pieces that gave the youngest flutists something to listen and look forward to, intermediate pieces where the young ones played a simplified version alongside the older students, and dozens of variations on the Book One pieces to keep it interesting for those farther along. I’ve never seen high schoolers so excited to play Twinkle, but then it is a very different experience when you get to mix it up with the Batman theme.
Trekking with me from class to observation to dorm and back, of course, was little Kyrié. To my relief, she took most of the big changes in stride and I was very grateful for everyone’s patience and help on the occasions she didn’t. As the whole camp was such a family experience and taking her to the Suzuki music class for ages 0-3 was what sparked my interest in doing the training myself, I enjoyed having her with me more than I’d anticipated. She was also a toddling demonstration of Suzuki philosophy. She clearly recognized the Suzuki group format and often participated as much as she could, tooting the rhythm of the songs she knew on her recorder, marching around outside, and joining our circles for warm-ups or games. On other occasions, the group class finished playing a simpler song like Hot Cross Buns and Kyrié’s voice would pipe up from the floor with a matching “Ahh Ahh BUNS.” It is a pleasure as both a mother and a teacher to watch her absorb musical language just as she does English.
I am very excited to incorporate everything I learned thanks to Wendy and David into my teaching and hopefully start to build a Suzuki studio as well. I look forward to continuing with Book Two next summer!