Margaret Watts Romney: Gail Johansen and Daniela Gongora are both violinists and teachers, but they’ve made music in vastly different areas.

Gail Johansen lives in Fairbanks, Alaska…

Gail Johansen: Right now since it is almost the winter solstice, we have less than 4 hours of daylight. So, it’s dark most of the time. We’ve have had what I would call very mild winter. It’s 20 degrees above 0 right now.The real difference is that daylight swing. In the summertime when we have Institute it never gets dark. So it’s light all night long. I remember one time looking out my window and my neighbors were planting trees in their yard at 2am. The other day I was teaching a lesson and a moose walked by my studio window. So the student said, “Oh, a moose!” We all stopped and admire it as it wanders through.

MWR: Daniela Gongora grew up in Belize…

Daniela Gongora: There are little taxi boats that you to take to go the Keys Ahhhhhh sooooo good. It’s like heaven. The water is very clear, you are on the boat and you see this sea of crystal green. It just puts you in a state of Zen because it’s just beautiful.

…the rustic part of the marketplace, the vendors selling rice and beans by the spoonful. A dollar for one spoon, two dollars for two spoons. Everybody goes and they have, chicken tacos if they want, or they go to other guy and who has small little mini meat pies which is more of a British influence. Growing up, my street was not paved, it was sort of just a dirt road. Instead of chalk, we drew lines in the sand for hopscotch. Some of the houses you know, in the backyard, had a mango tree in there or a lime tree.

MWR: Though Daniela and Gail came from vastly different geographical areas, they both thrived in their small music communities. What did it take for them to create excellence when resources were limited? Are there lessons for all of us, even if we live in a community of abundance?

You’re listening to Building Noble Hearts, a production of the Suzuki Association of the Americas. I’m Margaret Watts Romney. Here, we take a look at the learning environments in which children, parents, and teachers gain new knowledge, and are encouraged to become fine individuals. Throughout this season, we’re talking with people whose lives intersected the work of humanitarian violinist Shinichi Suzuki, and we’re finding themes of good teaching everywhere; themes like community, independence, and spreading a vision of excellence.

Gail’s small music community in Fairbanks, is pretty isolated, and when a student needs a new instrument…:

GJ:… they have to call, and ask for several to be sent. Even chin rests and shoulder rests. You have to ask for about half a dozen to be shipped to you and then send back the ones you don’t like. When you need a bow rehair, you have to send it to Anchorage, or send it to the Seattle area. Because, here we are in the middle of interior Alaska. The next city is Anchorage, but it’s a 7 hour drive away. So if you want something to happen, you have to do it yourself.

MWR: By comparison to her current situation Gail grew up in the land of plenty—and the land of 10-thousand lakes, immersed in music in Minnesota.

GJ: I remember my mother made sure that we got piano lessons starting in first grade. In third grade I remember someone came to my classroom and played the violin, and I went home and asked and parents they said said sure. I remember I really wanted private lessons. Three times I asked and finally my dad said, yep, I think we can do that.

MWR: She was first exposed to Suzuki teaching in High school.

GJ: I was an usher in high school for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and they brought Dr. Suzuki and his tour group in for a regular subscription concert.. I remember even having feelings of jealousy. “Wow, how did they do that!?”

MWR: She just happened to be in the right place at the right time to witness the seeds of a new music philosophy starting.

She didn’t pursue Suzuki philosophy for a few years, but serendipity hit again when she was in graduate school at the Cleveland Institute of Music. She just happened to come across a book and it resonated.

GJ: I remember in graduate school at CIM, I just happening up on the book “Nurtured By Love” in the Music LIbrary. I remember that I couldn’t put it down. I thought, this really resonates with me. I read the whole thing cover to cover that night.

MWR: Between grad school and regular attendance at Cleveland Orchestra concerts where she could attend for free as a student!—Gail enjoyed a rich musical experience.

GJ: Of course that does a lot for your standards and for your expectations of what can be done.

MWR: Meanwhile, Daniela Gongora’s early music community was in Belize City, one of the largest in the country, but finding experts in classical music when she was growing up was not easy.

DG: We didn’t have teachers at a high skill level to help us move ahead. We started a little chamber group, it was everybody. “You know how play the cello? Let’s play Pachelbel’s canon.” Oh my goodness, I remember we would rehearse weeks and weeks and months and it would fall apart, we couldn’t get to the end of Pachelbel’s Canon. We could not keep it together.. ….

MWR: Music was abundant in Daniela’s early years, first with piano and then violin.

DG: My relationship with music comes from my mom. She played the piano by ear, but she didn’t know how to read music. She would always play the big LPs. Tchaikovsky and Beethoven.

Belize, since it was a British colony, they had a lot of pianos that were brought in. So when some of the British left, they left a lot of pianos back. Piano was the big instrument and everyone would learn to play the piano.

So I started on piano with this lady, we would walk there and then we saw another student with this case, it was a violin case but at the time we didn’t know what it was. So my mom, she asked, (and the student said,) “oh yes, we take lessons at the high school.” My mom said, “Do you want to go take a look and see?” So we went to observe the group class and my mom said, “Is this something you would like to do?”

MWR: She lived near a small school that had a budding Suzuki music education program run by her eventual mentor, Sister Therese. As a child, she didn’t know exactly what “Suzuki teaching” meant, but she has fond memories of the experience.

DG: We had the tapes, the cassette tapes to listen to. I can recall the group classes, the private lessons, playing by ear. I remember trying to figure out Boccherini Minuet by myself. I remember having these huge group classes. And then Sister Therese would come over and she would bring some treats for us. She would come over bring some candy and give it to us at the end. It was just such a positive experience. That’s one of the things I remember. I loved playing and I loved practicing. It was truly a very nurturing environment, even at home with my mom.

MWR: Sister Therese was an enormous help in Daniela’s musical education, though she was not a string player herself.

DG: Sister Therese managed to have a lot of connections either with the US embassy or with the British High Commission. Peace Corps (volunteers) would come in and help and do their work in Central America. But occasionally there would be someone who was doing that but she would find out that they also played the violin. So she would say, “Come spend a weekend and work with these kids.” And then sometimes we would get a professor coming in from Austria. They would volunteer their time, maybe spend a year or two.

MWR: Though she’d become a teacher, Daniela’s knew she wasn’t finished being a student. The same drive that earned her a leadership role in her old school also got her a scholarship to leave Belize and study in the States.

DG: So this philanthropist, Alan Schoen Feinstein, he was based in Rhode Island. He came in and said I am giving out 20 international scholarships, but you have to go home and do something your community in order to be nominated. So I said, we’re always raising money for the school, how so about we raise money for, there was a fire and we raised money for some fire victims.

MWR: So Daniella organized a concert, made money from the ticket sales, donated it all to the fire victims, and then reported it all in an application to the scholarship foundation.

DG: I get this call months later, “Congratulations, you’re a finalist, you’ve got this scholarship.” You had to study in a school in RI.

I had been emailing back and forth to the professor, the head of the violin department. I said, “Hi I’m Daniela, I’m the Belize Student.”

Everyone said he was tough but I said “Hey, I’m here to do tough. Give it to me.”

MWR: Throughout their education, these two musicians, Gail and Daniela, developed in settings that fed their hunger for personal excellence. And both had the desire to connect to others and teach at very young ages.

Gail’s first inclination to build a community through teaching began actually when she was a child.

GJ: All along I knew that I had a real desire to teach. I think that the seeds of that were when I was in grade school. My mother allowed me to invite neighborhood children in and have what I called a pre-school in the basement. I remember that I made up a flier, just hand written one, and took it around to some of the neighborhood houses that had the younger children, and told them what I wanted to do. We put on plays and we were going to do arts and crafts and stuff like that. I remember singing with them. I remember putting on a musical. I’m sure they thought that this was going to be a short term little thing, but I did it for two years.

MWR: Daniela was not quite as young as Gail when she started teaching, but as a precocious and responsible teenager at her school, she was asked to step up when a visiting British teacher was about to leave,

DG: She was a riot. She was great. The chamber orchestra was big now. We played Holberg suite. Very successful with it. She was there for 2 years. At the end of that time she was preparing me to take it over, and Sister Therese asked her, “Why can’t you stay another year? Please?” She was begging her, and she she said, “No, Daniela can do it,” and I said, “Are you kidding me? I am 19! What am I going to do with these kids?” So that was when I started teaching and I took over the school at that point.

MWR: Gail and Daniella taught at early ages, which showed not only their affinity to connect and nurture growth, but reflected their independence and leadership skills as well.

Gail’s background of a strong music education, personal drive, and a desire to teach prepared her well for her new situation when she ended up moving to Alaska after her PhD program. In Fairbanks there weren’t world class symphonies, rich music libraries, or renown master teachers like she had experienced in school, but there was a small group of teachers who had a hopeful vision to build their community with music excellence. They started after Dr. Suzuki had briefly visited.

GJ: He had been here with his tour group which was 1978, In that time, a few women who were in the symphony, they sent away for books, read all they could about how to do it, and just jumped in and did it. So when I got here there was a tiny seed of a Suzuki program that they had started for their own children.

MWR: Daniela’s program in Belize had started from a chance conversation on an airplane with a Catholic Sister. Sister Therese founded the school, and she too had a hopeful vision of building a community with music excellence.

DG: She wanted to have a full orchestra. That’s what she wanted. I remember her telling a story of her traveling from New Orleans. She met this person on the plane and told them about the program she wanted to build. She got two violins donated to the cause, and that’s where it started. The year after, Ms. Grieve from Canada was there on a mission with her husband who was an Anglican Priest, and they were doing a church mission. And so she came, she was teaching there for a year. That’s how the Suzuki program just grew from there.

MWR: Once the seeds of these small music communities were planted, they were nurtured and strengthened by the connections between individuals.

GJ: When I got to Alaska, in 1979, they were incredibly inclusive and inviting and welcoming. I think that is really the key to what pulled me in. I would say that the main thing that has been successful here is the way we have all cooperated and collaborated over the years.

The other thing that I think is unique about Alaska is many people don’t have family here. So they open hearts and open their homes to each other in a way that you would family. And there’s kind of a climate that feeds on itself of excellence and what can be done

DG: It was a very good community even though we only had so much. So we just took what we had and just ran with it. No, I must say that it takes a village and I’m very grateful because I think I couldn’t have done any of this without all the different people that have come together and shared: either if it’s a minute of their time, or put me in the right direction to do something or donated to a cause. For me it was a village. A lot was given to me from a lot of different people in a lot of different ways. That’s my way of saying thank you is by just continuing to do good.

MWR: The collaborations and support in the community didn’t just happen between individuals, but between organizations as well.

GJ: The university works well with us, the public school program works well with us, the symphony works with us. Everybody’s working together in positive and productive way. We all feel like we are a big part of the same puzzle.

MWR: Growth in these communities was fueled by the commitment of the individuals and the connections in the community, and they gained their vision for where they wanted to grow from experiences with visiting expert teachers.

Which begs the question: did these communities influence Gail and Daniela to strive for excellence? Or did Gail and Daniela’s independence and persistence impact their communities? The answer is: yes. And yes. Because humans emotionally influence each other in subtle and unconscious ways.

This topic of unconscious emotional influence is explored in this clip from the podcast Two Guys on Your Head, in their episode, “Why are Emotions Contagious?”

Two Guys On Your Head:

Dr. Art Markman: How you do actually understand what somebody else is experiencing? and really, part of the way that you do that is by trying to mimic or simulate what you might be experiencing if you were doing the outward things that someone else is doing.

Dr. Bob Duke: I think most of us have experienced people who… we like being around them because they make us feel better. Not because of what they say to us necessarily, or because they are complimentary of anything, but just because their emotional state brings us up a bit, and conversely there are people for whom just the opposite is true. But one thing that is interesting is to think, what are the channels of communication that convey this. One of the things that we know is an outward signal of emotionality is pupil size. We know that when we are in an emotionally aroused state, our pupils tend to dilate. It’s been demonstrated now, and there’s another study we were looking at just a little while ago, where, when people see other people whose pupils are dilated, their pupils tend to dilate a little bit too in response to that, again, without any conscious awareness on anybody’s part.

So again, we are talking about very primitive responses, that you can see would have a very evolutionary advantage, because the more that we understand the people that we are around, and as Art is saying, sort of simulating what someone else might be feeling or thinking like, allows us to understand more about what somebody is feeling, and thinking, or maybe doing, and you can see how those responses would evolve over time.

MWR: Dr.s Art Markman and Bob Duke explain that one person’s strong emotions easily spread to another since we are wired to detect what others are feeling. Gail and Daniela’s music communities were started with trust, excitement, and hope. Then in turn, these teachers influenced their communities with their own confidence, independence, and perseverance towards excellence.

Now what are Gail and Daniela creating and hoping for their communities next?

GJ: I am now doing teacher training at University of Alaska. I know that we are going to have a younger generation that is going to take over.

For example, we have two musicians in the Cleveland orchestra from our program. That alone. I’ve had two students go through Julliard new program for historical musical studies. We’ve had students really go on to do wonderful things with their music.

MWR: Daniela plans for more collaboration between musicians in the states and her friends in Belize, especially after the success of one visit.

DGM: One year I also brought some of my student to work with the students there and we had a concert. We were doing the Vivaldi Double. The American students and the Belize student each, we had one on each part so they could share that. Such a great experience for them. After the did the rehearsal they put their instruments down and then just zoom went together in the room, “Hey, what’s up?!” It was like there were no barriers at all.

So, what lessons are there from these musicians and their small communities? What are the key elements needed in order to grow to be sustainable sources of rich music education?

GJ: It’s really your vision that keeps it growing and developing over time.

When I reflect on how it all happened it really is because of the inclusiveness of the atmosphere here and the spirit of collaboration and cooperation that we’ve been able to foster. I think that has allowed all of us to be greater than we would be on our own.

DG: The positive approach to learning. That is what I think has been the success and that’s why the school is flourishing.

MWR: Though a community may or may not have a symphony, university, music libraries, or master teachers, the most important resource a community has are the individuals who decide to collaborate, who share a vision of excellence, and who fuel each other with their love of music…

DG: It just feels great to play. I feel like I’ve evolved in how I love music and why it’s important for me. It’s gone from a love of it, to hey, this is actually really important for human development. Putting those two together is pretty unique pretty extraordinary and I think it’s a great thing for society and human development in the future.

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Do you have an influential person in your community like Daniela or Gail that you would like to recognize? Julie Schafer, Richard Brooks, and Melisa Cline are some of the people who recently had stars named in their honor on the Giving Galaxy of Stars on the Suzuki Association of the Americas website. Go to to dedicate a star, and we may acknowledge them here on the podcast as well.

Have music to share? We love using music from our community on the podcast. Write to [javascript protected email address] if you would like to submit your recordings for consideration.

“Sun Up” is composed by Steven Katz and Derek Snyder and performed by the Snyder cello army.

Clips from the episode Why Are Emotions Contagious from the podcast Two guys on your head is produced by KUT.

Toothless Slope, Borough, and Castor Wheel Pivot by Blue Dot Sessions (

Vivace, String Quartet No 3 op 67, Brahms, The Cavani Quartet, 2009 Celebrating Excellence Album, produced by the Suzuki Association of the Americas

Humoresque, Antonin Dvorak, Emily Yaffe. 2009 Celebrating Excellence

Vals, op 8 no 4, by Augustin Arrios-Mangore, Connie Sheu guitar, 2009 Celebrating Excellence

Methusaleh Podcast Productions gives masterful support to our scripts and production.

You can find links on our website to all music and podcast selections.

Thank you for joining us in “Building Noble Hearts,” and we will see you next time.