The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical Music News: Suzuki Strings of Madison marks 20 years with a free open house this Sunday, then goes to Puerto Rico on Thursday

June 11, 2011

A REMINDER:  A FREE concert of “Dances for Organ and Violin” will take place at 11 a.m. today in the Overture Hall in the Overture Center. Madison Symphony Orchestra organist Samuel Hutchison is featured along with UW-Madison violinist Eleanor Bartsch. The program includes music by Strauss, Kreisler, Bach and others. The event is part of the MSO‘s three  free Farmers’ Market concerts in Overture Hall at 11 a..m. on the second Saturday of the month through August. more For information, visit

By Jacob Stockinger

You hear the term “Suzuki” a lot these days, it is so well established.

But what exactly is the Suzuki method and how successful is it?

You can find out at an open house tomorrow, on Sunday, June 12, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive (below).

To mark its 20th anniversary, teachers and students from Suzuki Strings of Madison will be on hand to talk about the method, give performances and dole out party treats.

The event is free and sounds like a great chance for parents and children alike to sample Suzuki.

For information, visit the website:

Diana Popywicz (below), who co-founded Suzuki Strings of Madison and still teaches there, recently gave a Q&A to the Ear.

What makes the Suzuki Method unique compared to other methods?

The Suzuki method departs from other methods in several distinctive ways. In its initial stages, it was devised for the study of the violin because Shinichi Suzuki (below, 1898-1998) was a violinist.

Now the method has expanded its repertoire to include the other strings: viola, cello, double bass, guitar and harp as well as piano, flute, recorder and voice. There is a strict sequence of books to follow, as well as corresponding CDs to listen to.

But really it is the philosophy that holds everything together.

The basic ideas of the Suzuki Method are:

The child is a product of its environment.

Begin study as early as possible. Formal study can start as early as 3 years of age.

Repeating experiences is important for learning. Dr. Suzuki’s famous quote is: “Ability = knowledge x 10,000 repetitions.

Teachers and parents must develop the full potential of every child through proper training and a positive learning environment.

Move in small steps, thereby building confidence and enthusiasm for learning.

Parents attend all lessons and supervise of daily home practice time. Parents are an integral part of the Suzuki triangle: parent/teacher/student.

Listen daily to recordings of the Suzuki repertoire. This approach derives from the way children learn to speak their native language.

Postpone music reading until the child’s aural and instrumental skills are well established.

Follow the Suzuki repertory sequence, so that each piece becomes a building block for the development of technique.

Create in lessons and home practice an enjoyable learning environment.

Participation in group classes provides an important motivation.

Students should cooperate, not compete.

It is important to note that the Suzuki method uses a series of graded books, 10 volumes for the violin commencing with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” variations, all the way to the Mozart concertos.

Suzuki never intended to create hundreds of thousands of violinists, but rather to use what he knew — the violin — as a vehicle to open up a world of beauty in the lives of children.

What is Suzuki Strings of Madison?

Since 1990, Suzuki Strings of Madison has provided children of all ages quality, comprehensive musical instruction through the violin. Most of our beginners start at the age of 4. Our high school students have the opportunity to participate in Sonora Strings, our advanced touring ensemble. This have been such a motivating ensemble that this year we formed Prelude Strings, for the students in middle school who are performing at a high level.

All students take weekly private lessons.  They also attend group classes once a week.  In these classes children continue to develop their technique, review the shared repertoire, learn solo as well as ensemble performance skills.

In addition, the foundations for music reading are introduced through Dalcroze Eurythmics (below, Popowycz in an adult clinic) and continued in weekly music theory and note reading classes. Advancing students are offered orchestral and touring ensemble experiences.

With well over 100 students in the program, we are able to create many opportunities for public performances and community outreach. (See students performing J.S. Bach earlier this year at the Wisconsin Union Theater, at bottom.)

Suzuki Strings of Madison offers monthly recitals, yearly workshops (traditional Suzuki as well as alternative styles such as American fiddling, jazz improv, klezmer), parent meetings and other social events which foster a positive learning environment for families and help students achieve individual, social and musical growth.

Our current faculty includes Maria-Rosa Germain, Jill Jensen, Heidi Kenney, Carol Lebovic, Kathy Taylor, Diana Popowycz, Janse Vincent and Thomas Waegli.

We aim to teach children not only the joy of music and music making, but also the life-long lessons of confidence, self-esteem, concentration, self-discipline and sensitivity. Believing that music is an art form to be shared, Suzuki Strings of Madison brings the love and joy of music and children to the community through public performances.

The fact that so many of my students start at the pre-school age and continue in our program through high school creates a very special relationship that is rarely duplicated in any other area of their lives outside of the immediate family.

What will the open house include?

Specifically at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. there will be two different sets of music from Sonora Strings (below), our advanced touring group heading to Puerto Rico this Thursday, June 16.

There will be an ongoing slide show projecting on a large screen of 20 years of students and events, which is always a trip down memory lane.

Also, all of our archived binders will be on display, documenting concerts, events and any other special achievements of the program.

No party is complete without treats and refreshments, and the public can expect plenty of that.

Finally, this is a kick-off event for our Suzuki Strings of Madison fund.  Area businesses have been extremely generous donating both goods and services in our silent auction table.

This is a wonderful time for our alumni families to reconnect and witness the tremendous growth of SSM in the past 20 years as well as current families and friends to celebrate who we are now and look forward to the next decade.

We always make sure some pieces from the Suzuki repertoire are played. We have student leaders for the majority of the concert and have often created small groups of solo players .

This year our students range in age from 11-17.

Selecting repertoire for the purpose of continually developing the students singing tone is why the Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Praeludium” and the Charles Gounoud’s “Ave Maria” have made it onto our list. We round out with some crowd-pleasing pieces, such as the “Cincinnati Hornpipe” and “Bugler’s Holiday.” There will be more.

It is profoundly interesting over 20 years to note that the students’ time spent as young violinists at the Suzuki Strings of Madison is equally as powerful whether they pursue music as a career or not.

Clearly, we have our musical success stories– as the lineup of Final Forte or WYSO (Wisconsin Youth Symphony orchestras) concerto winners reflects those who began their studies with us. There are many who are now in schools of music at college or in music conservatories or at boarding high school arts academies.

There are those who are studying sciences or the liberal arts, but who continue to play in their respective university or college orchestras.  There are also former students who are finished with school and working, but who still search for an opportunity to play music with friends. Many alumni just sit in an audience and have the pleasure of deeply hearing a performance from years of listening.

Posted in Classical music

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