By Roselle Pascual Bantilan, Contributor
The music journey of Suzuki children
Who wouldn’t fall for the sweet melody coming from the violin played by very young children? Who wouldn’t be moved by little musicians fully immersed in the resonance of music strings? Who wouldn’t be amazed by their small fingers as they play rhythms and melody?
Some people might think they do not have an ear for music. But wait until you see the Suzuki children, who are new to music put life to their musical instruments.
The secret is in the method
While there are many methods of teaching music, the world took notice of the music education movement developed by Japanese violinist Dr. Shinichi Suzuki (1899-1998). This approach of teaching music to young children is based on the principle that all kids have it in themselves to learn to play a musical instrument and they need not be born with the talent.
“Suzuki music lessons are very different from traditional music lessons,” explains Prof. Carolyn Kleiner Cheng, Philippine Suzuki Association president. “Most children learn to read music while they learn to play; Suzuki children learn to play first and they learn to read later when they can play some pieces fluently. What Dr. Suzuki did by intuition was later on supported by psychological research. Children as young as two or three have fully developed senses of hearing but their sense of sight continues to develop until the age of seven. So, if they start music lessons as young as two or three, it makes sense that they learn to play the instrument by listening to the music and learn to read the music later on when they are older and their sense of sight is more fully developed.”
This is the first pillar of the Suzuki method.
Children at a very young age will obviously not have the discipline to practice difficult instruments such as the piano, violin or cello all by themselves. This is where parents play an important role as the Suzuki method requires the presence of one parent at all lessons.
The parent must be committed to practice the child at home every day and let the child listen to the recording of the pieces he/she will learn to play. This is the second pillar of the Suzuki method.
From the heart of a Suzuki child
“I grew up listening to music,” says Sophia Bantilan, a 14-year-old kid who started learning with the Suzuki method at age eight.
Her first exposure to Mozart was when she was only a few months old, with her mom playing classical music before putting her to sleep. And she grew up listening to Beatles music on the car with her parents.
Sophia recalls the first piece she ever played on her violin — the first variation of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” She was nine then, and the thought of playing a piece that she sang as a toddler was a boring activity, so she skipped a few pages of her Suzuki book to learn other pieces instead.
“You can imagine my horror when I learned that I would have to play “Twinkle” again, and again, and again, and again, and again,” she muses. “I had to do this for both piano and violin.”
Admittedly, repetition can be easily seen as something both boring and frustrating, especially to a kid. But the Suzuki method gave repetition a whole new meaning — it is not merely doing the same thing again and again but instead, reinforcing an idea in order to ground your technique so that you can do other cool stuff.
Then she realized, when you get better at your technique and advance to higher book levels, you will appreciate all the work and practice that you’ve endured. Suzuki makes it clear that music is as rewarding as it is beautiful.
In the Suzuki method, family plays an important role and parents actually form part of the Suzuki triangle, along with student and teacher. So, Sophia’s journey into the music world would not be complete without her family. Not only would they watch and support her during her practice, they would also encourage her to make more music outside of the Suzuki world. The third pillar of the Suzuki method.
Two years ago, Sophia only attended classes and orchestra lessons during the Asia Suzuki Conference in Bali. This time around, she will be playing in one of the concerts, another new experience for her!
“I’m excited to both perform in my own bands and join this Suzuki Conference. I honestly can’t wait.”
From the heart of a parent
To Liza Aquino, mother of 13-year- old Thea, the Suzuki method wasn’t a walk in the park.
“One of the rules was ‘no parent, no lesson,’ which meant I had to be in the room whenever Thea sat with her teacher. This also meant that I had to sacrifice my Fridays, regularly taking time off work to accompany my daughter to the music studio,” shares Liza.
Liza confesses that it was all very tiring at first, but after grasping the importance of the no-parent-no-lesson rule, she began to see it as an opportunity for mom-daughter bonding and a chance to witness her child’s growth firsthand.
Thea’s inclination to music wasn’t a big surprise to Liza and her husband Jojo. Music is in her DNA. Her great-grandmother gave piano lessons to children in Ithaca, another great-grandmother was a harpist and her aunt was an opera singer.
Thea wasn’t even two years old when she showed signs of love for music. After watching The Sound of Music for the first time one evening, she took her rainbow-colored xylophone into her parents’ bedroom the next morning and played sol do la fa mi do re on the tiny bars.
The next thing Liza did was to approach their next-door neighbor, a pianist whose music they could hear from the walls of their home, for advice. “She suggested that we enroll Thea under the Suzuki method in Greenhills Music Studio, where she was Suzuki-trained as well, and so we did.”
And that started Thea’s journey in music. Now, Thea is off to her second Asia Suzuki Conference, and Liza couldn’t be more excited for her. She is grateful to Suzuki for creating this opportunity that allows her to spend time with her daughter and watch her thrive. “Hearing her play the violin makes my day, and I can’t imagine our home without her music.”
From the heart of a teacher
It’s been said that teaching is a work of heart and that teachers change the world, one child at a time.
So how does it feel to be a Suzuki teacher? “It is immensely fulfilling,” shares Prof. Cheng, “because you don’t become involved just with the student or the child; you become involved with the families. You get to know one parent very well, and frequently you get to know the siblings as well. Also, with the steady commitment of the parent to the discipline of practice and listening, the children really progress. Instead of having piano lessons that go nowhere, you see the children grow in ability until they are able to play pieces that only music majors can play.”
Prof. Cheng also shares that even if the students don’t end up making a career in music, many of them still keep in touch, have lessons occasionally, and still have a love for playing the instrument.
“Dr. Suzuki’s aim was never to create an army of professional musicians: his goal was to create individuals with fine hearts: sensitive, open to beauty, responsive to aesthetics. He believed that music could save the world if there were enough individuals like this.”
The 7th Asia Region Suzuki Conference in Manila
From July 1 to 5, Manila hosted a conference attended by hundreds of local and international Suzuki students, parents and teachers from all over Asia at the Treston International College and BGC Arts Center in Bonifacio Global City.
During the conference, the children further honed their talents through lessons and master classes conducted by international teachers. The children also performed in small recitals, as well as listened to beautiful solo and chamber performances in various concerts throughout the conference. The featured instruments included the piano, violin, cello, and guitar.
This year’s conference, aptly called “Art to Heart: Nurturing Children’s Hearts through Music,” hoped to make a lasting difference in the lives of many individuals, not just the children, through music.
“Every time I go to a Suzuki conference, you can feel the excitement in the air as all the children carrying their instruments converge in the conference venue,” shares Prof. Cheng.
“It is moving to watch excellent international teachers with years of experience teach even the littlest students with so much love and patience. It is moving to watch the concerts where the best students perform, some of them below 12 years of age playing concertos that adults play. It is moving to watch whole families come to the conference, with several children playing different instruments. It is moving to see all the staff at the conference trying to help everyone, most of whom are just volunteers: teachers or students. It is moving to watch the final concert where the play-ins start with the most advanced students and continue through the easier pieces, adding children until it ends with everyone playing the ‘Twinkle’ variations.”
“A Suzuki conference is truly a life-changing experience. Many students, who may have been discouraged, leave the conference inspired and determined to keep practicing and to keep making beautiful music. Teachers who were not sure about learning a new style of teaching decide to begin the difficult journey to becoming a Suzuki teacher. Parents who may not have been that serious about giving time to their kids’ musical education start to see that it is something worth their time and effort,” he ended.