Welcome back to season two of Building Noble Hearts. 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. Throughout this series, we speak with members of the Suzuki music community inspired by humanitarian violinist Shinichi Suzuki, and we’re finding elements of good teaching everywhere; themes like perseverance, beauty, and family connections.

Today I’ve got three stories for you you…actually they’re kind of the same story from three different people. First, Christina Graham grew up with both parents teaching piano…

Christina Graham: I remember so distinctly hearing the Suzuki repertoire just day in and day out.

Margaret Watts Romney:…Matthew Loden was a dedicated violinist…

Matthew Loden: I’m clearly still a recovering former Suzuki student who is muddling through a non performance career.

…and Kirk Cullimore who still loves playing violin and piano, but also has a full time law practice.

Kirk Cullimore: Kirk Cullimore, Esquire. No I’m just joking. Just Kirk is fine. Kirk Cullimore or whatever.

MWR: All three were immersed in Suzuki lessons as children…practicing, performing…but despite their passion, despite their excellence, Chrissy, Matthew and Kirk each ended up in non-musical careers as adults.
We’re going to do things a little differently today, I’m going to step away and and let them tell their own stories, but first some quick introductions.
Since both of Chrissy Graham’s parents taught piano, she played too, but insisted on starting violin as well. One time, she figured out how to be a little sneaky with her own violin practice while her mom was occupied.

CG: …she gave me a 60 min cassette tape and a recorder and she said, “ok, you need to fill up this entire tape with practicing, it needs to be music.I figured out I could just play this in my room, so my mom will hear music coming from my room, and I’ll lay in my bed and read.

MWR: Matthew Loden, meanwhile, was a sort of poster child for Suzuki in his home state of Texas, diligent in his practicing. When he shared his experiences with parents and teachers, he spoke of his luck going on tour with his violin and rubbing elbows with future soloists.

ML: We also performed at the Kennedy center for Jimmy Carter. What a thrill that was. But my biggest claim to fame was having Brian Lewis as my lunch buddy on tour.

MWR: Kirk Cullimore’s family must have been dedicated to music, or a little crazy, or maybe both. As he was growing up his violin lessons started at 5:00am, and piano started at 6:30.

KC: I’m pretty good at both and a master of neither.

MWR: I was fascinated to find that each of their lives…Chrissy, Matthew and Kirk…followed similar paths through music: starting in a supportive community, meeting and overcoming struggles, bringing wisdom from music to their professions, and finally passing on their love of music to their children.

ML: In 1976 I was lucky enough to be in one of the very first Suzuki violin programs in a public school in Texas. A couple years after starting the violin in 1978 as a fourth grader I was selected as one of 50 Suzuki kids from around America to tour with Dr. Suzuki and his Japanese students as part of his International Children’s Tour. The headlines in my local paper read, “Suzuki violinist Matthew Loden plays Carnegie Hall.”

KC: How I got into violin I have no idea. The story is they took me in a music store and had me point to one instrument and point at which one I wanted to try, and that ended up being violin, but as far back as I can remember, I’ve always just done violin. The piano came in about at the age of 8

CG: Yeah, I started piano first. When I was about 2, and my mom was my teacher for about the first…well I was about 7 or 8. So I started piano at 2 and then I started violin when I was 4. I had gone to a Suzuki Institute in Houston, and I heard Elisa Barston play the Saint Saens Rondo Capriccioso and she was 12 years old and I just adored her, and I insisted that I learn the violin so I could be like her.

KC: Well, my mom is the one who mostly practiced with me at a young age, but it was my dad who supportive as well, since, as I recall it was my dad who woke up at 4:30 in the morning to take me to violin lessons at 5:00am and took me to piano lessons before school and, so they both helped a lot.

CG: My mom was so exceptional when I was younger and my dad more so when I was older. He was on the faculty at the University of Colorado in the piano department, oh 25? 30 years? You know…growing up on the campus of the university and exploring the music department. I even have these memories of laying under his piano while he taught and coloring.

I certainly recall the nightly ritual of putting in that cassette tape, and playing it as I fell asleep.

KC: My suzuki teacher would do group things where we met up with other Suzuki teachers. I made a lot of friends doing that, and orchestras, and Institute.

CG: And then Institutes, I loved Institutes because that was our vacations in the summer, that was how we traveled. I remember the teachers, and these were people we would see year after year, and they were very kind and I looked up to them.

ML: But great teachers are also adept at creating an atmosphere of magical learning where mistakes happen and notes are missed, but that sometimes doesn’t matter, because you are trying to hit something beyond the notes. I have been blessed with many fantastic and generous teachers my entire life. Great teachers build a peer group around the child learning an instrument. And they expect disciplined practice and work that requires at its core parental involvement and support. We all need examples to look up to, and we all need help.

CG: Oh, Gossec Gavotte, let me tell you, that was a divisive piece. My mom had this really ingenious strategy. She would take all the book one or two book pieces and write them on little slips of paper and fold them up and put them into this bowl. She would say, “You get to draw one out, and play it.” But she stacked the deck! She put like 10 Gossec Gavotte in there.

ML: Falling flat on your face at the recital because your memory failed and you are trapped vamping a circular motif that kind of sounds like the Bach Double, but you’re supposed to be playing the Two Grenadiers. I’ve been there.

CG: I remember having battles with my dad. I remember very specifically he said, “Why are you interested in skiing? That’s such a silly pursuit! You should be practicing piano!” And so there was this wrestling that he and I did as far as trying to balance priorities.

I remember very distinctly around 15, 16 that I really started to take it seriously.

I have these very distinct memories of staying up late when I was a teenager, in the basement, alone. I really enjoyed being by myself with the piano, and I remember just practicing these passages over and over again, working toward mastery. It was these micro achievements of being able to say, “a ha! I did it! I nailed that passage, and I worked really hard!”

ML: I was also a professional violinist, and a teacher for two decades. Now I have a day job at the Philadelphia Orchestra that occupies much of my time which means my early violin training and my two degrees in music performance are no longer the underpinning of my daily bread. All those play ins, group lessons, and the nighttime Suzuki repertoire tapes looped into my dreams are now a thing of the past. I spend much of my time in an office now, not on stage and I no longer stand out in a crowd because I’m carrying a sleek black violin case on my back around the upper west side of Manhattan, heading to Lincoln Center or Carnegie hall poised to make great art in important places.

CG: There was a moment I thought, am I squandering talent? Would it be a real shame if I didn’t major in music?

KC: You know there’s a lot of times in my life where think, don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy practicing law, but I wonder, gosh maybe I should have done more with music, it was much more enjoyable and rewarding.

KC: I was able to use a lot of those disciple skills that not only I had developed as a kid but that I had been teaching to apply that to my law school education and be successful in that. Much like music, there’s a very analytical and technical side of law that you have to get down and that can be mundane must like practicing can be mundane. That’s kind of what practicing is, and what law is sometimes. You read a ridiculously boring statutes and case law and you have to understand the analytical and technical side of it, but then when you present it, either through writing or presentation in court or in counsel or to clients, the creativity side has to comes out and it is a performance. You’ve got to keep their attention, keep them entertained, if you will.

CG: I ended up getting a Phd in clinical psychology, so now I practice health psychology is my specialty. There are a lot of connections between the experience of mindfulness and the experience of being in music. Whether that is as a performer or as a listener. There’s this idea that if you can turn your attention to what is unfolding right now in this moment, that can help facilitate some other really healthy psychological states, it can help cope with stress, it can help cultivate all sorts of other beneficial experiences. Certainly, I think my ability to teach mindfulness is perhaps informed by my experiences as a musician being mindful with the music.

ML: My Suzuki training allowed me to see how hard work could actually be fun. And that having a lot of people clap for you felt pretty awesome, but it only happened if you put yourself out there in the first place.

KC: Music is really what makes life beautiful for me still. It a great release sometimes, its a stress reliever at some times. Now I really relish the opportunities to do that and to think that I get to perform.

CG: I got really involved in the choirs in college, and then beyond college I started singing in semi-professional chamber choirs, so that is what I continue to do to this day. And, it’s my time. It is challenging as all get out, but in a completely different way, and just seeing what I can do with my musicianship, and also its not occurring in a vacuum, it’s occurring with a bunch of other people.

KC: My oldest two daughters have been studying the violin, my next two daughters, play the cello, little boy started violin last fall. So I have two twinklers in the house right now. I may have developed some patience as a Suzuki dad. Yeah, they are good kids.

CG: My musical experiences as a child have really influenced my desire to instill musical appreciation in my kids. I’ve taken my older one to quite a few concerts, and, he’s starting cello. I feel like I’m going to get some massive Suzuki Karma coming my way with all the difficulties I may have given my mom over the years I’m going to reap it four fold with Owen.

ML: So I am no longer the Suzuki kid, but my daughter is. I have discovered that it is infinitely more terrifying to sit through your child’s recital than it is to play your own solos at Carnegie hall. I know you have all shared this feeling of dread as parents and teachers yourselves. We sit in folding chairs in retirement home spaces or schools gyms and when it is our kids turn to play, we make bargains with convenient deities to ensure that the Bach that they have polished is actually rendered as originally intended without the stutters and memory lapses that twist a parent’s stomach and make our children sweat. And there is nothing as a parent you can do but sit there and watch, as the thing you love most in the world has to turn a mistake into a gesture of beauty.

KC: I’d love it if my kids could find a career in music, but understanding that’s not for everybody and not everybody does that. If they can just get to a point where music can be part of their life no matter what they do, that’s what I’m hoping for.

CG: I just want to do right by my kids and I want the have them to have the same experiences I did, and not just the love of music, but also I think the fundamentals. Knowing how to read music, knowing theory, knowing how to plunk something out on the piano if they need to. Being able to identify different composers, being able to understand how Bach sounds different from Mozart. I really want to impart that in my kids. I hope that I can do that while also still respecting who they are as individuals.

ML: I think my daughter is learning these same lessons right now. She knows that practicing and performing music is not something to get through, it’s not just a daily obligation on a to do list. She knows that how she approaches the piano is actually teaching her how to shape her own attitude about life.

I believe we can give no greater gift to our children than the ability to be passionately curious and vigorously independent problem solvers who never give up. When the problems they are trying to solve happen to be learning how to translate notes on a page into their own unique expressions of self, when they learn how to tell a story through the simple shape of a phrase of music, and when they stand alone on stage and they do it in front of a room filled with strangers that are hungry for a moment of community, I think that’s a parent’s dream, and Suzuki’s real gift.

MWR: Music gives the gifts of perseverance, focus, and discipline…Gifts of beauty, connection, and expression. Gifts that are so impactful, so ingrained that they are evident through time, and across disciplines.

ML: We are all performers of one type or another, we just stand on different stages.

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

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

“Mbira” and “When” and from the album “Finding Sanctuary” by Anthony Salvo.

Beethoven’s String quartet number 3 was performed by the Borromeo String Quartet

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

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

Thanks to Robertson and Sons violins for their generous support of the 18th biennial Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference.

Have a special teacher that gives the gift of music?

Stars have been recently named for Margaret Armantrout, Beth Titterington, and Bert Mayers on the Giving Galaxy of Stars. Go to Suzukiassociation.org to view the galaxy or dedicate a star. We may feature them here on the podcast as well.