How are in-person and engaged communities created? What do they feel like when you’re in them? We interview group class expert and cellist Carey Beth Hockett to hear her answers.

Music Clips:

Sun Up by Stephen Katz and Derek Snyder

Robin Hood Changes His Oil by Gideon Freudman, performed by the Alaska Cello Intensive

Beethoven String Quartet Number 3 in D Major performed by Borromeo String Quartet

Comments or questions? Join the conversation in the Suzuki Forum!


MWR: Imagine—20 professional music teachers of different geographical, instrument, and experience levels enter a classroom. They are here to learn from specialist Carey Beth Hockett—who has been developing and sharing her own system of teaching groups of students. The teachers confidently remove instruments, quietly greet their colleagues, and respectfully await instruction. After some warm-ups and games where you never knew counting to 8 in intricate patterns could be so difficult, Carey asks for volunteers to create their own exercise… and ……just waits… silence…while everyone looks at each other….

One of the most striking things in these classes is this sense of time and space, the awareness gained by listening to every member of the group.

When people start sharing ideas, inventing games, trying each other’s creations, An almost visible web of relationships is created in the room.

These days much of socializing is based on screens….so how is this in-person and engaged community created so instantly?

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 also encouraged to become fine individuals. We’ll talk with members of the Suzuki music community inspired by humanitarian violinist Shinichi Suzuki, and see themes of good teaching everywhere such as listening, community, creativity, and more.

This week we’re featuring Carey Beth Hockett—a cellist, teacher at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, outgoing board member of the Suzuki Association of Americas, and incoming board member for the International Suzuki Association…but the way most people know her in the Suzuki teaching world is through her group class workshops. Hundreds of teachers have had the pleasure to join her group classes based on games which play around with music skills like…counting to 8, playing Twinkle Twinkle little star, or a one octave scale—with variations which make these simple exercises so surprising and intricate that the room is constantly filled with laughter as professional musicians flounder with their instruments.

As I interviewed Carey, it was clear she has been creating live, in-person, and engaged communal spaces even from a young age in Ithaca, NY.

Carey Beth Hockett: I’m the youngest of 5 children. And my father, though not a professional musician, in his heart and soul he was a musician. He was a composer, he played the flute, and he loved chamber music so he had a huge collection of LPs and there was chamber music playing in the home ALL the time. My older siblings all played wind instruments, but when it came time for me to start, I wanted to be different, so a friend of the family had a viola and a cello they were willing to give to us, and I chose the cello. And started at about age 7.

I remember that the first teacher I studied with tried to introduce vibrato in the fourth lesson, and it made me really nervous, and I told my parents so. Since of course, my parents weren’t in the lessons with me at that point, so we changed to another teacher, and I must have been hard to handle since I went through a number of teachers in the first few years.

The memory I have from my early days playing the cello is that my father was a pianist. He could manage a little piano playing and I loved to play with him accompanying me. I used to make regular trips to the local music store, and scour the boxes of cello music and find things I thought that he and I could play together and I’d go up to the front desk and give them this huge stack of music and say put it on my father’s bill, and walk out of the store with it. My recollection is that we would spend hours a day playing cello and piano together. I’m sure it wasn’t as long as I think it was, but it’s something I always remember being eager to do.

MWR: Carey built on those formative years playing and sharing music with her father, by studying at Eastman School of Music. But it wasn’t until after earning her degree in music and returning to Ithaca that she was introduced to Suzuki teaching—introduced not by other teachers, but by demand from an existing community of students.

Luckily, these days teachers with Suzuki training are abundant and can be found from anywhere through the Suzuki Association of the Americas website, but in Carey’s early teaching days, the Suzuki teaching movement was just getting started, and students were asking her for this “Suzuki teaching.”

I asked her what initially drew her to Suzuki teaching…what she was intrigued by.

CBH: Well, I don’t know that I was drawn to it or intrigued by it, what happened was actually I decided after I finished at Eastman to move back to Ithaca. At the same that I moved back there were two Suzuki teachers in town who were moving away, so they sort of created this vacuum that someone needed to fill. So when I got back to town I had people calling me and asking if I would take their kids who had started with these Suzuki teachers, and my answer always was, “I’m happy to give it a try, but I must tell you I’m not a Suzuki teacher. I haven’t had any training, and I don’t know anything about it, so if you understand that’s the situation, I’m happy to work with your kids.”

One of the earliest experiences I had was with a woman who called and said she had a five-year-old son who was playing, so I made my usual claim about not being an experienced Suzuki teacher. I also told her I had never worked with anybody that young, but I said I would be happy to give it a try. So the next week she showed up at my house with this five-year-old of hers, with four younger siblings in tow. When I opened the door, I thought, oh no, this is a mistake and was tempted to say, “I’m sorry, you have the wrong house” and close the door on them, but I didn’t do that. I showed them into the room where I was going to be giving the lesson and she proceeded to settle these little kids in the corner of the room and give them something to occupy themselves with.

While her son the cellist took the cello out by himself, and sat down and waited for me to give him the lesson. I was so sort of overwhelmed by this whole operation that already I was curious. Then I asked him to play, I said, what would you like to play?” and he said, “I’ll play Allegro by Suzuki.” and I said, “ok, go ahead.” And he did, and it was so absolutely perfect in every way that when he finished all I could say was, “What else do you have to play?” which was not my usual experience in learning or teaching. Most of my experience with learning and teaching was kind of search and destroy—you play something and the teacher picks something to pick holes in. You find what’s wrong and you fix it. This didn’t lend itself to that kind of teaching. We just had to go on and figure out what came next and what he should learn next.

So, that was one of the early experiences that really intrigued me and made me wonder—how did this happen? How can this be happening?

I think I’m such a sort of Maverick really at heart, I’m so rebellious, that I wasn’t going to be persuaded by any colleagues to start by studying Suzuki teaching and then do it. I think for me it had to be this way. Someone who had a successful experience came to me and converted me. I saw the results absolutely.

MWR: Carey saw ….sort of the tip of the iceberg of Suzuki teaching with this family. In this one child, she saw excellence, responsibility, patience, and openness. She knew that excellent family dynamics were part of the equation, but she also saw the quality of teaching this student had experienced. This was a window into the larger community of Suzuki teaching.

She saw results

The first Suzuki community Carey joined included Sandy Reuning, Yvonne Tait, and Marilyn Kessler—all excellent string teachers who were some of the first in the US to use Suzuki teaching ideas and were strong advocates for spreading the ideas to other teachers.

Carey’s rebellious spirit pushed against the idea at first of joining this new Suzuki teaching movement, but again… it was her personal connections with people, her students, her community, that made a difference.

CBH: Once I was teaching at ITE, Sandy Reuning invited me to teach chamber music at the institute in the summer. And that was a really important experience because Yvonne Tait and Marilyn Kessler and some of these pioneers were there teaching cello and they essentially took me under their wing and they said we need you, Carey. We need more teachers who are willing to help us do this work. That’s sort of why I came around and allowed myself to be labeled.

I feel as though it’s sort of principles from the Suzuki approach that really govern everything that I do. The attitude that I take into the room when I’m teaching, the attitude towards the kids, towards their parents, toward my colleagues, It’s all based on that.

Yesterday I went to my cello ensemble and I sort of went into my class, and the energy that the kids brought to it I felt revived. They are very positive and they are interested, and they are enthusiastic. They like each other they support each other they respect each other and I thought,”It doesn’t get much better than this.”

MWR: Three years ago, Carey Beth Hockett was invited to join the SAA board… a significant commitment of time and energy. I asked her why, with all she had on her plate, Why did she accept? She spoke of the gratitude and admiration she had for the individuals and the professional network she saw when she attended conferences.

CBH: I was really inspired by the speakers. Not just the special guest speakers, but just the sessions given by colleagues. There was a real rising level of professionalism. Of inspiring thinking. I remember anyone I would just sit down and talk to, I was so inspired by how deep thinking they were, how involved they were in what they were doing, how experienced they were. I just thought—it’s amazing to have so many wonderful, experienced, dedicated teachers in one place. I was really inspired by what I saw.

MWR: Recently, because of her service on the Suzuki Association of the Americas board, and her international experience from teaching for 18 years in London, Carey Beth Hockett was invited to serve on the International Suzuki Association board. She’s excited about connecting with the global Suzuki community.

CBH: I want to have a better understanding of how things work. Once I have a better understanding, I’ll be in a position to help other people have a better understanding. We waste a lot of energy criticizing things without sufficient information. It’s a kind of modern problem, with information so readily accessible that we read something for two minutes and then we are an expert. I just don’t think that’s right. I think we need more time. We need to live with things for longer, we have to be more open minded. We have to look deeper when other people have different points of view than we do. We have to understand why, not just say, “Well, I disagree with you.”

MWR: And that looking deeper, slowing down, asking questions, I’ve seen you teach in your creative group class workshops and it seems that it’s similar skills and strengths that you’re talking about with the ISA. Slowing down, hearing what’s being said, seeing what is called for for the next step. Does that ring true for you?

CBH: I think so. I’ve had a kind of epiphany after one of our board meetings. this epiphany I came away with from this meeting was actually we place much too much value on the answers.

It’s the questions that are really the interesting thing. So if one can get to a point where, you’re not like a school child who has to have the answers to the questions to pass the test, but you’re a grown up, you’re a fully formed person who is happy to have questions just lead to more questions.

CBH: Because that’s what happens. Questions lead to more questions. You have to decide that questions are your friends, not your enemies.

MWR: My conversation with Carey Beth Hockett showed that it’s QUESTIONS which draw us together and create a community. Asking FOR things as well as asking ABOUT things. Asking and leaving a space for the answers. Asking …for a father to play with you… for new music… asking for permission to be imperfect with a new student,… asking for time with another person…the act of asking for things can connect us to others.

But we can also ask ABOUT things: what is happening here? What is it that makes a Suzuki teacher? How does this organization work? … What is needed here?

By first asking and then leaving open space ………………to listen for the answers, we can build the environment to support ourselves and our students in our growth towards excellence.

Join us in our next episodes as we continue to explore the ways we as parents and teachers can create these rich learning environments that can transform our students, and perhaps fuel our own growth as well.

Thanks for listening to Building Noble Hearts, a production of the Suzuki Association of the Americas. I’m Margaret Watts Romney.

Our theme music, “Sun Up” is composed by Steven Katz and Derek Snyder and performed by the Snyder cello army. We also heard selections from Solos for Young Cellists arranged by Carey Cheney, Robin Hood Changes his Oil performed by the Alaska Celo Intensive, written by Gideon Freudman, and Beethoven String Quartet Number 3 performed by Borromeo String Quartet

We received significant and invaluable production assistance from Methusaleh Podcast Productions.

If you like what you heard today, tell someone about it, See you next time.