Method to the music
A gaggle of small children – some as young as 4 or 5 – struggle to hold up polished cellos bigger than their torsos while seated in the middle of the massive Vilar Center stage. Their music teacher instructs them to mimic her voice: She starts saying the word ‘crescendo,’ first quietly and then gradually getting louder.
“Now you try,” she says.”Cre-SCENDO!” they all shout, collapsing into laughter.”OK, now on our cellos,” she says.Instantly, almost magically, the kids move their tiny fingers across the neck of their cellos, seamlessly translating their vocal lesson to their instruments and creating an impressive crescendo in the process. What’s more, they’re all smiling and laughing, reveling in the shared experience of making friends and music at the same time.For 14 years, the Colorado Suzuki Institute has brought children from all over the world to learn the joys of music through the Suzuki Method, a pioneering form of teaching that focuses on developing aptitude and talent within each and every child. Two years ago the two week-long sessions moved from Snowmass Village to Beaver Creek, and this year 500 students from 50 states and 10 countries (including as faraway places as Australia and India) have gathered to take classes in eight different instruments.”When my children were young, they had the opportunity to go to Suzuki institutes in the summer, where they learned from world-class teachers and met other children from all over the world,” says Gail Seay, executive director of Colorado Suzuki Institute. “I wanted that enriching opportunity to exist for other kids. But there’s no pressure or expectation behind the Suzuki Method – there are no aspirations except we hope that they have the life they love.”Students have a bout four hours of class a day, which can include group classes, a Master’s class and theory lessons, followed by fun workshops on fiddling or jazz piano. Parents are invited to come and watch most of the classes so they can see the progression of their students; Seay says 60 percent of Colorado Suzuki Institute kids return the following year to continue studies.”Most of these summer camps are held on college and high school campuses in the summer, and it oftentimes Dad isn’t keen to spend his summer vacation in a dorm room with no air conditioner,” Seay says. “But this is such a beautiful place to be that along with getting the best teachers in the world, you have a fantastic family vacation built-in. You can take a hike and enjoy the outdoors; our whole student body went to the rodeo in Avon, and that was such a hit.”Violin instructor Helen Brunner comes from London every year to teach, and she finds the fringe benefits of teachng in Colorado rewarding.”I love to teach a class and see mountains – typically walking from class to class is a downside, but (here) it’s a pleasure to just move around,” says Brunner. “I come back feeling refreshed even though I worked my head off.”More students stay each year for longer sessions; some students started at 3 or 4 and have been with the program for 13 years. Brunner and Seay well up with emotion when they talk about watching these kids progress through the years as musicians and as people.
“It’s stimulating to say the least, and it’s why we work so hard,” Brunner says. “To see them blossom over three or four years is tremendously invigorating.”Seay received a letter from a six-year veteran student who couldn’t attend this year, and his letter stands as concrete proof of the massive effect Colorado Suzuki Institute can have on students. He says “my time at CSI influenced both my music and my thinking in ways that school has never even come close…thank you for such an amazing life experience.””When I read that aloud at the beginning, their wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” Seay says.Musical outreachPart of Colorado Suzuki Institute’s larger mission involves outreach and donation; in addition to funding scholarships for 60 students each year to come from third-world countries, Seay also developed an extensive program to donate unused instruments to impoverished schools both here and abroad.”I realized how many people have instruments they no longer play, whether a child outgrew it or maybe it’s just sitting in grandpa’s closet,” she says. “People bring us these instruments and we send them to places like Colombia, Tanzania, Peru, India and even an inner-city school in East Cleveland. There are so many schools that need music but could not possibly afford it. All teachers have to do is contact us, and we try to do what we can.””In all my years, I’ve never come across a Suzuki camp that is so concerned with outreach,” says Brunner. “A school in Central America wanted to have an orchestra, but all they had was one cello to share between all of the students. Colorado Suzuki Institute sent them instruments, but last time we checked in they’d been using the same strings for over a year, whereas here students change them three or four times a year. There’s just no way they can afford those things, so we’ll have to see about getting them new strings.”To fund these philanthropic projects, Colorado Suzuki Institute holds concerts and fundraisers like tonight’s Musical Mutations concert.”We want something light and family-friendly – we’ve got a four-handed sonata for viola and even a little jazzed-up, free-form rap,” says Colorado Suzuki Instructor and performer Sarah Montzka. “We showcase that classical music can be fun, vibrant and even slightly silly or unusual.”Though Colorado Suzuki Institute has no grand ambitions for students other than pure love for musical learning, success as a professional musician can come as a fringe benefit. Laura Seay, one of Gail Seay’s inspirations for Colorado Suzuki Institute, is completing a masters degree in violin and viola at Julliard.
“Having music ingrained as a part of who I am nurtured a passion for music,” she says. “When music is exposed as part of play, the way it is with the Suzuki Method, the pleasure and satisfaction of (musical) success is something you get addicted to. I never knew how to dislike playing violin or viola.”In her summers away from Julliard, Seay serves as a counselor for older suzuki students, and she relates to the social impact these classes have on students.”The social aspect becomes a huge part – you only see your friends for a few weeks each year, but the bonds you form last – I remember when I was 9 or 10, I switched from piano to viola, and the hardest part was worrying about whether I’d see my piano friends still,” she says. “Now, it’s fun to watch what happened to me in others. It’s incredible to see 3 and 5-year-olds and everything in between as they learn to love music. Their eyes light up right in front of you, and your heart pitter-patters a bit.” Perhaps parents’ hearts pitter-patter the most: Colorado Suzuki Institute offers them the chance to watch and participate in some of the pivotal moments in their child’s lives.”You send your kids off to school, and everyone else tells you what’s going on,” says parent Linda Adams Troy, who brought three children from Montreal to the Colorado Suzuki Institute. “Here, I get to know my kid. I learn what makes him feel good, how he learns and how much is enough. And they’re so darn cute, of course.”Troy mists up a bit when she recalls the memories her 6-year-old son Aviv is making this year.”The very first night, after cello, skating and everything else that went on, just as my son lay his head on the pillow, he said, ‘mom, this was the best day of my life,'” she says. “But the next night, after more of that and then going to the rodeo, he said, ‘mom, I think this is the best night of my life.”‘Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or email@example.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado
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