Music & Clips

“That got me thinking” Podcast

Sun Up

Dvorak Sonatina for violin and piano in G Major, transcribed for viola

Beethoven String Quartet No. 20 played by the Jupiter String Quartet

Real Vocal String Quartet playing Kothbrio and Kitchen Girls

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M: If you could wave your magic wand, what would that look like in this vision of yourself in a future state?

S. I think it would look like a studio full of kids who practice and work really hard and parents who are supportive, yet also flexible. I think it would be just having some time to sit down with coffee and a book every day too.

M. What would that feel like, sitting down with coffee and a book?

S. That would feel amazing

MWR: Sarah Bylander Montzka had a rich music education

SBM: I came to Suzuki Viola as a 12 year old,
had many years of traditional piano lessons,
just wanted to practice on my own,
went off to college,
viola was my main instrument,
really needed to know my instrument well,
double majoring in Performance and education,
also was taking Dalcroze pedagogy,
got a job doing some early childhood classes that were Dalcroze inspired,
knew that I wanted to be a teacher,
enjoyed focusing on the performance aspect as well,

MWR: Sarah had a rich background, and many options for directing her music career: she could have taught the whole body music practice of Dalcroze, she could have performed, or conducted orchestras. Instead, why did she choose to work primarily with individual student and delve into Suzuki teaching?

Sarah: I’m always ready to talk about Suzuki!

MWR: You’re listening to Building Noble Hearts, a production of the Suzuki Association of the Americas. I’m Margaret Watts Romney. Here, we’re taking a look at the learning environments in which children, parents, and teachers gain new knowledge and are encouraged to become fine individuals as well. We’re talking with members of the Suzuki music community inspired by humanitarian violinist Shinichi Suzuki, and we’re finding themes of good teaching everywhere such as listening, community, creativity, and more.

Sarah: I’m always ready to talk about Suzuki!
Suzuki teachers have a way of meeting each child where they are but at the same time holding a vision for their potential. A vision of excellence for their future. So being able to hold those two concepts in one’s mind at the same time I think is the sign of a great teacher in any subject matter. I see that more frequently with Suzuki teaching, I don’t want to say it is exclusive to Suzuki teaching, but I see it in many of my colleagues that I observe around the country.

MWR: I have to admit, as a teacher myself for over 20 years, this comment surprised me. I knew many pillars of Suzuki teaching, many that we have mentioned here….listening, parent support, small steps, group learning, repetition…but I didn’t recognize this particular skill I had already been using of holding two concepts in my mind at the same time.

Then I thought about what I had learned in a Suzuki course based on the ideas of Dr. Robert Duke called Suzuki Principles in Action. This idea of envisioning accomplished learners has become part of the fabric of our understanding of teaching, and is rooted in ideas of Dr. Suzuki himself.

Dr. Suzuki encouraged teaching character, the whole child, not just teaching a five year old to play Bach or the individual fourth finger on the left hand to play in tune. He said, “What is man’s ultimate direction in life? It is to look for love, truth, beauty.” He said, “Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens.”

These are admirable goals, AND everyday, Suzuki music teachers still have to figure out how to to teach the five year old to play Bach or the individual fourth finger to play in tune.

How do we do both? How can we practice

SBM: meeting each child where they are but at the same time holding a vision for their potential.

MWR: I wanted to hear more about Sarah’s experiences, how did she accomplish this jedi-mind-in-two-places trick? And were there other places that it would be useful?

SBM: I think it has to happen at the teacher level, and it has to happen at the parent level. And then I feel that we have a responsibility, parent and teacher together to help the child be able to see that as well, so that the child starts to create a vision for themselves as an accomplished learner, and a performing artist and someone who can get up and present themselves and be part of a group and make a meaningful difference in a musical experience.

MWR: Teachers, Parents, and Students. We can take this skill and apply it to many different roles. First, let’s look at how a teacher can help a adults focus on the present while holding a vision for the future.

SBM: One of the things I like best about my job at the music institute is that I run the parent orientations. I think a lot of these parents come in with preconceived expectations of what this musical experience is going to be, and what this journey is going to be like learning a musical instrument.

As musicians we know that learning a musical instrument, each instrument has its own set of rules and you just can’t get around that. The violin has to be played a certain way in order to get a beautiful sound. It requires very careful foundation work, which for a child can sometimes be tedious.

Parent orientations are a time I like to help them understand that it takes effort, that It is a journey that takes effort over time.

I want to say just one more thing about that. I feel that when you are with a child and when that child doesn’t want to practice, it’s really easy to forget about the long haul and all of these beautiful character traits that we’re developing. So I always encourage parents when they begin to write down a list of all the different traits and qualities they hope to see developed in their child through their musical study, so that in those moments of struggle, they can sit down with that list and remember, right, this is why we’re doing it. We’re doing so that my child can stand up in front of an audience with poise, and listen, and be a team player, and remember all of those qualities that are developed over the long term.

MWR: It’s a strategy she uses in many different ways with her students, everything from preparing them for what a recital will be like to very simple lesson etiquette.

SBM: I think the best example of that would be something that happened just a few months ago with one of my very young students. This is a little one that has enormous potential on the viola, but then suddenly out of nowhere was not exhibiting what I would define as exemplary lesson behavior. He was doing the opposite of what I was asking him, not cooperating or staying In the same place where his lesson needed to be, walking over to the couch and back whenever he wanted to, just little things that were suddenly starting to add up. It made for lessons where he was not able to learn. I have a vision for him, not only as a violist, but also as an accomplished learner. Somebody who knows how to take information and knows how to work with a teacher and knows how to take in new concepts, so we just did a reset.

This is one of the examples of how I would use visioning with a very young one, because he is four years old. We stopped everything and sat down on the floor with a piece of paper and I just asked him.What are three things students should be doing in lessons. We came up with feet will stay in the lesson area, and the student does what the teacher asks, and I think the other one was something like no yelling, and he was never yelling, but that was his idea that students should never yell in lessons. So we wrote just those three things down. Suddenly there was a very clear path and a vision for this is what the expected lesson behavior is. We ended our lesson that day a little early. The next day I met him in the hall with that list and we talked about it. I reminded him how I expected him to enter the room and each step along the way we kept checking with that list to see how he was doing. I made sure to always check when he was doing all three of those things, so we could celebrate. I would ask, “Are you yelling?” “No I’m not!” “Oh goodness, isn’t this amazing?” “Are you cooperating?” “Yes, I am.” “Have your feet left the lesson area?” “No! I have not run to the couch even once!” We had a lot of time to celebrate. We used this to touch base with just lesson behavior. After a few lessons of using that list, all was fine and we did not need to use the list. That is an example of making a clear vision for something and having the child help himself get there.

MWR: Turns out she applies this philosophy of holding to visions to the Suzuki Association of the Americas. As board chair of the SAA for several years, Sarah has always kept an eye not only on where the organization is now but where it should be going as well.

SBM: As a board member, I have a vision for our organization, Suzuki association, a world where any children who wants this, can have it and any parent that wants this for their child can have it. It is not something that is elite or expensive or inaccessible. That is the vision I have in my mind all the time when I am doing this board work. How can we get there? And then just constantly assess that vision for the future against what’s in front of us today. Slowly step by step move in that direction.

MWR: Sarah isn’t the only professional who uses this technique of holding two thoughts in your head at once—visioning your future while being in the present. Business consultant and TEDx speaker Patti Dobrowolski told a story on the podcast “That Got me Thinking” about a room of adults in distress that she shifted when she helped them vision their future.

Patti: I go into this one company, and everybody is so upset. Like literally, in the room, they are throwing things, and they’;re crying. I’m a wreck! I’m not at all skilled to deal with this. I’m a therapist, a drama therapist, but this is way more drama than I know how to deal. SO I just went into the restroom, locked the door and just asked. What am I supposed to do here? Then, I believe genius, or creative genius is accessible to everybody. And in that moment I got an idea. I went back in the session, I put paper on the walls, I had everyone take a pen, go up there, and write and draw where they were right now. After they had done that suddenly, everybody was really calm. And I said, a year from now, what do you want it to be like? They began to tell me what they wanted, best case scenario, and we just closed the gap between the two, current and desired. As soon as I saw that happen I knew that this was a tool that everybody should know how to do.

You just get a blank piece of paper and some pens, colored if you want but it doesn’t matter. But first, just on a scratch paper I do a little warm up. I draw a square, triangle, circle, line, period, comma, so that I get myself to remember that all things in the world are made from these very common symbols. It’s better if you actually draw some pictures because you activate this other part of your neural cortex that will actually get you to think bigger. So on the left side you write current reality, and you capture in words and pictures, scatter them around the page, on the left side, what it’s like right now. Then you take a break. Get up, drink some water, do some jumping jacks, get yourself rebooted, and you write on the right side, desired new reality, and you imagine out as far as you want. I capture it in words and pictures and I start with the qualities and characteristics because it’s easy to get to. Maybe I want to be more creative. Then I add a few pictures. What would that look like? Finishing that book you started to write. I put the specifics. Then I’ve got the current and the desired, and I just put three big arrows there. And I write at the top, three bold steps. And I look at the data on the left, and the data on the right and I close my eyes for a second, this is me in that restroom what are the three boldest things I can do to get from here to there. And as soon as I get something I write it down. you have to catch it right away. Then, I take action on those three things. Then I just do something.

MWR: Visioning into the future and connecting it to the present can help parents, students, organizations, and even ourselves. Make a list, Draw pictures, shape the visions in our minds into reality.

After all of the visioning and hands-on work Sarah has done in her studio and the SAA, it seemed natural to ask, what does she vision for her own future?

SBM: I am starting to take a little bit more time time to play things that are not so teaching related. I just started taking Scandinavian fiddling lessons and I am starting to come back to music is something that is not just my career, but something that is there for me. So that has been a very nice feeling too

I think sometimes we get our instruments out to teach and to perform when we need to perform at a faculty recital. It is important every now and again to take that instrument out and just play for yourself.

MWR: Parents, Students, Leadership, and ourselves. This skill of being able to hold two concepts in one’s mind at the same time, of our current reality and our vision of the future is a powerful tool and an opportunity.

Maya Angelou summed it up best when she said, “If we are lucky, a solitary fantasy can transform a million realities”

MWR: Do you have an influential educator in your life like Sarah that you would like to recognize? Lillian Chou, Gail Gerding Mellert, and Carol Oureda are some of the people who have stars named in their honor in the Giving Galaxy of Stars on the SAA website. Go to to dedicate a star, and we may acknowledge them here on the podcast as well.

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

Thank you to Ellie Newman and the “That Got Me Thinking” podcast for the use of their interview with Patti Dobrowolski. You can them at and

Dvorak Sonatina in G Major transcribed for viola was played by Dima Murrath and Vincent Planes

Beethoven Quartet No 20 was played by the Jupiter String Quartet.

Kothbiro and Kitchen Girls were played by the Real Vocal String Quartet

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

Want to attend a Suzuki Principles in Action course or learn more about Suzuki teaching? Check out the events tab at

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Thanks for the great response from our listeners and see you next time.