What is community? How do you find it? Join it? Build it? It’s more than just showing up to a bake sale with brownies from a box, then taking off (though I’ve done this many times). Is it bowling clubs with awesome matching shirts? What about hot but festive street fairs where you spend too much and never have a real conversation? How do you build community?

You’re listening to BNH. I’m Margaret Watts Romney. Today we examine one community and the many gears that had to click to bring it about. Throughout this season, we’re speaking with people whose lives have intersected the work of humanitarian violinist Shinichi Suzuki, and we’re finding themes of good teaching everywhere; themes like accountability, trust, and inclusion.

To answer my questions about community I had a conversation with someone who has built a remarkably strong and unified music group. Clara Hardie started with relationships that were very dear to her, but among a population that hadn’t had access to Suzuki teaching before: the families that were regulars of The Capuchin Soup kitchen in Detroit.

Clara Hardie grew up in a

CH: Community in Marquette Michigan

MWR:…amidst the quiet surroundings of the upper peninsula. Violin was an integral part of her family from an early age.

CH: I started playing Suzuki violin at age 5. My mom took me to lessons, and she also actually got lessons too as the home teacher. She made it through Minuet I in book one, which, looking back now, I’m like, “Wow, that’s amazing.” She also took me and my sister to Blue Lake Suzuki Family Camp and to Steven’s Point. The Suzuki community in MARQUette michigan in the upper peninsula was pretty small it was a community and we did have group class once a month in a local church basement. When I was 16, I was able to go to Europe with the Blue Lake Blue Lake International Youth Orchestra. So that was one of the first times realizing that music could give me a lot of opportunities. That I wouldn’t otherwise have.

Clara’s passion for the violin was surpassed only by her passion for social activism. As a child she not only played music but also participated with her parent’s local and global community building.

CHC:My parents were always involved in local politics,
writing letters to the editor,
host meetings in our living room,
keep the local elementary school open,
elect school board members,
founded a peace camp for kids,
learned about working with people from different backgrounds,
sang peace songs every morning to begin camp,
sisters and I would bring our violins sometimes.

MWR: In these formative years, Clara developed a rich relationship with her instrument, but was also exposed to the larger world. A world of acceptance, connection, and integration. One particular trip with her parents to Haiti really helped cement that passion.

CH: Going to Haiti as a 14 year old was mind expanding for me. We stayed on a compound where the hospital was for a couple weeks, and my parents would work in the clinic everyday, and the three of us would go into the orphanage room. There were tons of cribs, but there actually weren’t enough cribs for everybody. I remember there was a changing table with three tiny babies on top of that. We just played with them every day.
There was a seed planted that me and my sisters were supposed to be global citizens.

MWR: Clara kept on this path in college as she studied Social Science Theory at University of Michigan. And after college she continued her work of social integration by working as an art therapist at the Capuchin soup kitchen, and was there for four years.

CH: When you are doing art therapy, and working with a child and going to very vulnerable places and talking about real things, it gets really hard. There’s such a barrier if there’s not an ability to relate personally to what the child is going through right now

MWR: After working regularly with children and families in the Soup Kitchen with art, she wanted to also incorporate violin.

CH: The moment that I decided to get my teacher training was when I was spending time with one of my friend’s kids. His dad had died and he really like the violin. I thought to myself, I can make a difference in this child’s life as part of his community by teaching him the violin.
As I was in the teacher training I also kept thinking about the kids that I knew and loved at the Capuchin soup kitchen who I saw everyday. I needed to figure out a way to make lessons accessible to them.

MWR: As she began her training, more and more ideas presented themselves to her about how to incorporate music education into the work she was already doing with her Soup Kitchen families.

CH: While I was receiving the suzuki teacher training at Suzuki Royal Oak, I was also being trained by Detroit Future Schools in a transformative education program for community educators. Their curriculum was built on nurturing essential human skills that were necessary for ethical citizenship, collaboration and creating social change. That ended up informing my Suzuki approach, and I felt they were a lot of the time running parallel.

MWR: She felt resonance with these training sessions, and wove them together as the basis for her own violin studio mission.

CH: I learned about how Dr Suzuki started the method right after WWII when he wanted to do something for the kids in his neighborhood and he wanted to bring joy into their lives and he had one violin and that’s when he started teaching. I think the real reason it was started was to prevent war in the future, to create citizens that would not be interested in that, who would have the ability to collaborate and the ability to communicate with each other and to be creative enough to thrive. All of the tenants that Dr Suzuki came up with are to nurture an individual human being, It can be applied to anything in their lives, but it just happens to be using music and the violin as an avenue.
For example, parent involvement is intergenerational collaboration. Group class: it’s about the nurturing of empathy for others, and the ability to collaborate with others. Private lessons are individualized instead of having to take the same approach with a whole group of people and not worrying about their unique gifts or ways of learning. Use of review is building confidence in each student when they play the song, then that feeling of confidence gives them the will for mastery so they want to keep going forward.

MWR: These ideas and personal values were the fuel behind Clara’s passion to create a violin studio in the heart of Detroit, this matches Dr. Suzuki’s original vision as he himself said, “Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens.”
Clara was passionate, but building this new community had some puzzles along the way.

CHI: I had been raising my hand during the teacher training asking questions about,
“How are my students going to get this resource?”
“How are the parents going to get violins?”
“I’m going to have to buy notebooks for them if you want them to take notes.”
I was just like, this is a need and it needs to happen and I’m going to do it and I’m going to quit my job and just do this.
Actually, I didn’t really have a plan, just to be honest.

MWR; It was Clara’s violin mentor and teacher trainer who invited her to take the leap.

MM: my name is Mark Mutter, and I am the Executive Director of Suzuki Royal Oak Institute of Music, and I serve on the Board of Detroit Youth Volume. It was an amazing vision, and she dedicated just countless hours to that.

CH: Mark helped me get started with 8 students during a violin exploration camp for one week. A few months later we secured space in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra building on Saturdays to begin group classes and semi-private lessons. It was funded by Suzuki Royal Oak Parents who made donations for Christmas to support the Detroit Youth from the Soup Kitchen to have lessons.

MWR: She had the energy, the dedication, the hours, and the nudge from Mark to build it, but the most important thing she had to build with were her relationships. Capuchin Soup Kitchen families knew they could count on her.

CH: Another part of why this worked is because I already had relationships with the families. It was, “Ok, Miss Clara has been here for four years and she’s not going away. She’s going to be here for me. I can trust her.”

MWR: Mark also noticed Clara’s trusting relationships with the families, and saw how important that consistent presence was, especially after working more with Clara and learning about long standing patterns in society that erode that trust.

MM: What Clara embodied was, you have to earn their trust. Because so many times, the one offs, especially at a soup kitchen, they’re dying for help 300 days a year and then you get the few weeks during the holidays and Thanksgiving and Easter where they have to turn away volunteers. The people that use the soup kitchen see through that, and are very mistrustful of that, and for a good reason.

MWR: Clara showed up consistently, was clear about her vision of an integrated music studio, and built accountability into the foundation of her project. She set those expectations of accountability of herself from the beginning. Her violin families started with drop in, semi-private summer camps at the soup kitchen and eventually shifted to committed, year round, private lessons. Now Clara saw she was ready to expect a level of accountability from her families as well.

CH: I was having to cut out 7 kids that year we made the shift, because I realized if they are not showing up, they are not getting the essential human traits that I’m trying to nurture in them. They’re not getting grit, they’re not getting the ability to collaborate they’re not seeing themselves succeed, so what am I doing? That was an emotional choice for me because they were families I had known for 10 years, and I just wanted to see them every week. And I didn’t get to and I was asking myself omg did I fail them, what else could I have done, what did I do to make it inaccessible. I just had to accept that if there is a child who is living in a squatted house, and sometimes a hotel, and their family doesn’t have a car and sometimes they don’t have money for the bus, and they are basically homeless, we can’t actually serve them. That was terrible. I cried so much when I had to let that child go,

MWR: It was a difficult choice, especially when she knew that in families where the children may be experiencing violence or food insecurity there couldn’t be the same expectation as a child in a family who has every physical need cared for.
There was a famous study once that aimed to examine the psychology of delayed gratification in children. Nicknamed the Mischel Marshmallow Test, the idea was that if you tell a small child they can have one marshmallow now, or two in 15 minutes, those who control themselves to wait unsupervised for the whole 15 minutes seemed to have more life success later on. But a more recent study found that the child’s choice to have instant marshmallow gratification now was actually more strongly correlated with their background rather than their internal strength.
The reasonable choice for some children to eat the marshmallow now was explained by Jessica McCrory in a recent edition of The Atlantic: “For them,” she wrote, “daily life holds fewer guarantees: There might be food in the pantry today, but there might not be tomorrow, so there is a risk that comes with waiting. … Meanwhile, for kids who come from households headed by parents who are better educated and earn more money, it’s typically easier to delay gratification: Experience tends to tell them that adults have the resources and financial stability to keep the pantry well stocked.” https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/06/marshmallow-test/561779/
Despite this tricky territory, Clara found policies that worked for both her and her families.

CH: It’s important for us to be successful as a model this way and to have standards of excellence. We have attendance policies, we have musical development standards for everyone, so it’s not just a drop in thing, where it doesn’t matter if the kid success a not. We’re actually trying to impact their lives very.

MWR: From humble beginnings of a few families in an experimental program, Detroit Youth Volume has grown to be an entire organization of teachers and administrators that work together to serve the families of various backgrounds and needs in Detroit.

AN: I’ll be happy to hear whatever you have to ask. [laughter]

MWR: One of those teachers is Ashley Nelson, a Detroit native herself.

AN: My high school teacher really influenced me to go ahead and he was like, “You know, you could have a really good career in music.” And I was gonna do it anyway, but he reinforced that. And I went to Wayne State, I got a talent scholarship to go there and I started off in education, but a part of me, which is really funny and I haven’t told a lot of people, I really wanted to perform. And I went back and forth with, should I do education or should I do performance? So a few years down the line I changed my major to performance.
Well, I was probably one of maybe three or four other black people in the orchestra at Wayne State. There weren’t a lot. And nobody really said anything outwardly, but there were looks, and there were maybe some surprised glances or things that just made you feel like, “Hey, should you be here? Are you serious about this?”

MWR: Despite the sideways glances, Ashley stuck to her plan to be a musician.

AN: I’ve always wanted to be a role model for young kids and I felt this was a great avenue for me to do that because not only does it involve music which I love, I’m also able to be interactive and be social and still use all those wonderful things about being a good person and treating people with respect. There’s some disadvantaged youth here, just like in every city. I want to do something that I know that I’ve benefited from, and see what I can do to be of assistance. And so, when she introduced me to the program, I was like, “This is a good opportunity for someone like me to come on in and be a part, to just kind of help it grow, and just be a part of a good foundation of being someone that makes a difference in their hometown.”

MWR: Clara told me about one of the families she was close to from early Soup Kitchen days, and how that trusting relationship they built spread to bring more people in.

CH: I have a student named Ashanti that I have know since she was 4 and she’s 14 now and she’s the one who has been in Detroit Youth Volume for the longest. I remember a few years ago her calling me a few years ago in the summertime…we don’t teach over the summer, but she calls me on my cell phone because and wanted me to hear her play Minuet II, to make sure she was doing it right because she was teaching it to herself and she was in the car in the driveway because that was the only place that she could find a quiet practice spot because she has a few other siblings. It was just really special to me that it was that important that she was taking things into her own hands and fining places to practice. She came to me and said, “ Can Kimahri and Kamaria join? I taught them how to play?” She was very motivating to them.

MWR: And the received benefits don’t stop with the students, they ripple beyond to their families. Take a look at the quotes on the Detroit Youth Volume website from parents.

CH “I think music is an essential part of life. It is universal and soothing to the soul. I want my children in Detroit Youth Volume to help them have structure and discipline.”
Another says, “When my children practice, I enjoy the blessing of watching them experience something that I didn’t.”
I’ve also had a parent say to me at the end of a group class, “You know, I think we are going to start practicing more. I see how tired you are and how hard you are working and we are going to start working just as hard.” That was just amazing.
The parents, they really value that it’s a diverse community where their kids are in a room with other kids of all different economic and cultural and racial backgrounds. It’s good for all of the kids. I think Detroit Youth Volume is reflecting the world that all of the families want to live in.

MWR: The process of creating Detroit Youth Volume wasn’t easy, and had to overcome obstacles such as the history of negative race relations in this country as well as how to financially support a studio with many scholarship students. But the lessons we can all take to grow inclusive communities are there: built a community by nurturing the individual relationships, practice accountability by consistently showing up, and expect an appropriate level of accountability from the community as well.
Actually….there’s one other way that Clara is growing and bringing more human beings into her community…

CH: At this point, now that I’m pregnant and bringing my own children into this community, I’m so glad it exists. And it’s going to be benefitting me too in a way that I never thought about until the concept of being a mom is becoming a reality for me. I almost just cried. I’m so happy I get to bring them in.


Do you have an influential educator in your community like Ashley, Clara, or Mark that you would like to recognize? Alice Joy Lewis, Carol Dallinger, and Marin Colby 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 suzukiassociation.org to dedicate a star, and we may acknowledge them here on the podcast and in our newsletter as well.

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Methusaleh Podcast Productions gives masterful support to our scripts.

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

Brandenburg Concerto Number 6 by J.S. Bach was performed by the Gardner Chamber Orchestra

Sonata number 3 in C major by J.S. Bach was played by Katie Lansdale on the album Celebrating Excellence

Yes is from the Album Finding Sanctuary by Anthony Salvo.

Tuck and Point, Hickory Interlude are by Blue Dot Sessions and can be found at (www.sessions.blue).

And Light Row from the album Beatz and Stringz was played by Detroit Youth Volume.

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

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