Helping you navigate your child’s musical journey and stay on course throughout all of the many ups and downs of the trip is a core part of our school’s mission. While everyone’s journey is unique, many of the wonderful and challenging aspects of music study are familiar and shared by all of us who have traveled this path. This year we will be sharing a series of articles featuring our instrumental faculty and highlighting the struggles and joys they shared with their parent partner as they were growing up and studying music. This month’s faculty feature is on our director, Ellen Silver.
It was interesting to talk with my mom about what it was like being the parent of two Suzuki kids 35 (!) years ago and see if it can offer us any guidance as parents of music kids today. I was not a “typical” Suzuki kid, as I started cello at school in fifth grade when a string instrument was offered to every student. I chose cello because my younger sister in 1st grade had been chosen by lottery to play Suzuki violin in a new program, and I didn’t know what the viola was! So that left the cello. I learned to play simple songs pretty quickly through the traditional approach of reading notes, although my bow hold and playing position were pretty terrible, as pointed out by my Suzuki cello teacher who I started with beginning the following summer.
How did music impact our family’s life growing up?
Music was the focal point of our family life growing up. With classes for both my sister and I, we spent almost every day of the week at either lessons, group classes, recitals, or orchestra or chamber music rehearsals. My mom said that many of her happiest memories of our childhood are of the musical things we did together as a family, such as the four summers we drove from St. Louis to Steven’s Point, Wisconsin for a week-long Suzuki institute that we spent all summer reviewing and preparing for, to the years of special winter weekends and Saturday recitals, waiting to hear our friends perform our favorite advanced pieces. As we got older, youth orchestra became a very big deal, with my mom bringing home the recordings of the pieces we were learning from the library and playing them for us for weeks. A huge highlight was getting to see the Japanese tour group of Suzuki students play in Powell Symphony Hall in St. Louis. We were all in awe as we heard the advanced pieces played by such young kids all in matching outfits!
What was it like having two kids in the family studying music? How did you find time to fit in practicing with us? When did we practice and how did we manage to keep it up with all of our schoolwork?
My mom said it was really wonderful having two kids playing different instruments. We competed for her attention every night after dinner when we both got up from the dinner table and grabbed our instruments, jockeying for a turn to play for her. The natural competition between us worked to keep us playing for a long time, taking turns back and forth while the dishes sat on the table and my mom listened and mostly praised us for our efforts. Then, of course, we also loved to take each other’s instruments and try to play the pieces that were unique to each instrument. This is how I learned the second part to the Bach Double and my sister learned Breval Sonata and annoyed each other in the process as only siblings can! I also remember standing next to my sister with a tennis racket and chopstick, shadowing her violin playing exactly with all of the correct string crossings and bow levels…. so much fun, I wish we had a photo of that!
How was I to practice with? Did I take your suggestions well?
My mom and I both remember that she was very encouraging of my playing and reminded me of what we had worked on in my lesson from her spiral note pad that she took notes on during our lessons. I mainly remember her pointing out that my bow was almost never on “route 3” as it was usually drifting over the fingerboard. I hated to be reminded of this, but it is surprisingly one of the things I still have to pay attention to in my playing today to get a really ringing sound. I also remember that I didn’t like to be told to fix or focus on something WHILE I was playing, because I felt like I could never hear exactly what my mom said and just wanted to finish the part of the piece I was playing first and THEN find out what she was telling me to work on. This is something I struggle with as both a parent and a teacher, how to stop myself from interrupting when kids (especially my own!) are playing to give a suggestion that feels like it can’t wait….
More of Ellen’s story coming soon…