Frustration with local Suzuki community

Our son has had 3 1/2 years of Suzuki training and has just turned 9. We live in a fairly small community and there a very few advanced Suzuki students (above book 4). We recently switched teachers and are now very happily studying with an “old school”/”classical” teacher who is providing an appropriate level of challenge that his former Suzuki teacher-dispite my best efforts-was unable to provide.
Because our son is still quite young and had such positive experiences with Suzuki group lessons and institutes, we have continued to attend Suzuki institutes and were recently asked to join the most advanced Suzuki group in the area (not the group of his former teacher but of a very well-respected Suzuki teacher in the area). We were very excited about the group and prepared for a couple of months reviewing earlier pieces, anticipating it with discussions with a few of the group members, etc. Everyone-including this new Suzuki teacher-expressed a lot of enthusiasm about Mischa’s inclusion and expected contribution to the group.
A couple of days after the first group he attended, I received an email from the teacher praising Mischa’s playing and impressing on us the importance of a Suzuki group to his musical development but saying that “it would be best to continue to serve only the students enrolled in my studio at group lessons”. In the email she went into great detail about her feelings about her students and her studio which all made sense, but, other than a brief apology for “any confusion”, offered no suggestions for how to 1) explain to Mischa that he is no longer welcome at his new group or, 2) any suggestions for another group that would be appropriate for Mischa (there is no other advanced Suzuki group in this area).

I have tried in the best way I know how to engage this teacher in a discussion since it is a small community and we will be encountering eachother at regional institutes etc, but she has refused. I don’t want to have a negative feeling about the local Suzuki community, but after this experience, I do. In discussing this topic with his present teacher, she is concerned that he was excuded because he is no longer studying with a Suzuki teacher(?), and I have been avoiding discussing this with Mischa since I honestly don’t know what to tell him.

Any thoughts would be much appreciated!

Barb said: Oct 30, 2011
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

This seems very strange—he was asked to join, and then asked to leave after one group lesson? Was the confusion that the invitation to join the group was in reality an invitation to have him switch teachers for private lessons, so that he could then be in the group?

How disappointing. I can understand your not knowing how to tell your son.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Thank you for responding, Barb. Suzuki is near and dear to my heart, and I really don’t want to have this negative feeling of being “excluded” from the Suzuki community. Our new private teacher (who was concerned that the reason might have been because he was no longer studying with a Suzuki teacher) made mention of the fact that some Suzuki communities are perceived as being “elitist”. I’m curious if this is a common perception of the Suzuki Community(?) I hope not, but with this reason experience with this Suzuki teacher…?
About this particular group (the one our son was asked to leave), the teacher had no expectation that Mischa would become a private student: The idea/invitation arose out of the discussion about Mischa’s very positive move to a teacher who did not offer Suzuki groups. Whatever her reasons, I would expect any professional (ESPECIALLY a Suzuki teacher-am I being idealistic?) to handle this kind of situation with some sensitivity to the student.

Deanna said: Oct 31, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
90 posts

I agree with Barb that it seems like a very strange stiuation. Maybe the group teacher didn’t realize your son’s new teacher wasn’t a Suzuki teacher when she extended the invitation. Is your son still learning pieces in the Suzuki repertoire and reviewing them (thus making group participation possible)? Is there a personal conflict between the group teacher and your son’s new teacher?

I haven’t experienced the “elistist” Suzuki community at all. I occassionally have students of a non-Suzuki teacher who uses the repertoire join my group lessons but I wouldn’t invite students who didn’t use or know the repertoire to join because they wouldn’t be able to participate very much. I still expect those students to be reviewing even if their private teacher doesn’t require it.

Can you talk to the group teacher about what happened and ask her why your son was invited and now is no longer welcome? Be as gentle as possible. She seems to be the only one who would really know. Are her group lessons offered through a school or conservatory? They might have a policy about only students enrolled with a Suzuki teacher can participate. I don’t know, without more information it’s all speculation.

Does your current teacher have 1 or 2 other students advanced students that your son could play duets, or trios with so that he is still getting some ensemble?

Barb said: Oct 31, 2011
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

The only other thing I could think of is that the teacher realized how well your son is doing, and is afraid that other parents will see this and then think they should switch to your son’s teacher.

I like Dbmus’s suggestion to get together with some of the other students for ensemble playing.

I’m curious why you chose the tradition teacher over the Suzuki teacher who offers the group? Is she in a different town?

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Paula Bird said: Oct 31, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

There seems to be a bit of missing information about what is going on. The perception is that there is a problem with the teacher, but there are three possible participants in this scenario, and any one of them or combination of them could be at the root of the decision. And, there may have been some questions raised by other members of the group, whether students or parents.

Please ask the teacher, and be sensitive to the fact that the teacher may not feel comfortable giving a frank answer. All you can do is ask for information. If you do not receive the information, then there is nothing you can do. I’m sure there is a reason for the decision; you just do not know what it is.

I have never run into “elitist” behavior in the Suzuki community, which promotes and fosters cooperation rather than competition. I have run into the elitist attitude from other areas, and it disturbs me that there is such a perception out there that Suzuki teachers are different than traditional teachers. I teach traditionally as well. It just happens that I am also a Suzuki teacher. I use the “Suzuki method” of nurturing, encouraging, enthusiasm, ear-training, review, parental involvement, etc. in both my Suzuki studio and the university studio. I use the same repertoire for both sets of students, because the repertoire is a classical repertoire. I could just as easily request that my students purchase pieces from other editions other than the Suzuki books, but how silly is that? It costs less to purchase the set found in the Suzuki books. My Suzuki students study the same etudes and exercise books as my university students.

So I bristle personally when I am referred to as “just a Suzuki teacher.” I have advanced music degrees and am a professional symphony and recital musician and a member of a professional string quartet. I am highly trained and skilled in teaching. I hope that others will speak up as well about the value of Suzuki teaching.

Ask the teacher for the answers. Speculation is dangerous and very unfair. Only the teacher understands the reason for her decision. As for other group opportunities, it is quite easy to form small ensembles that meet on a regular basis. There is plenty of repertoire available for that.

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Thank you all for your comments and suggestions!
Because I have been unsuccessful in engaging this teacher in a conversation about my son’s participation-in (and/or transition out-of) her group and because I have been hesitant to check it out with the other parents of this group (for fear of effecting their working relationship with this teacher) I have been put in the frustrating position of only being able speculate. This could have been simply a case of “not a good fit, let’s discuss this and make a new plan”… I’ll probably never know her reasons for handling so rigidly and insentively and refusing to discuss it with me, but hearing all your thoughts and ideas has been so refreshing, and has helped me have some perspective. This teacher and I clearly have a different modes of operating, so it was probably a blessing that we found this out from the get go! I feel very supported by all of you readers/responders of the larger Suzuki Community.
I am curious, thought, if there is a protocol among Suzuki teachers for referring/terminating the lessons with a student?
Oh, and, yes, our son is in a wonderful string quartet and also in a youth orchestra, so I’m confident he’s getting plenty or ensemble time. Also, I have solved the problem of this group lesson by contacting another group that had also invited him to join (not Suzuki, but a well-established advanced group that does use some Suzuki repertoire so I’m hoping he’ll get some of that great unison playing!) and I am just hoping that I can put-off the conversation about the Suzuki group until I can come up with something benign to say about to him.
About our choice of a new teacher, we chose her because she is a wonderful teacher and an excellent fit for our son, not because she is or isn’t “a Suzuki teacher”. She has had some Suzuki training and does use Suzuki repertoire as well as well other repertoire and techniques. My impression is that she uses more Suzuki techniques with the younger students and more what I would consider, old school techniques with older more advanced students.
I’m glad to hear that very few of you have been given the feeling that the Suzuki community is perceived as “elitist”. Being able to bounce this off you all has helped me to avoid generalizing my feelings about this one Suzuki teacher to the larger Suzuki Community. Thanks again!

Paula Bird said: Nov 1, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Viola
Wimberley, TX
386 posts

Hi, Amy! I am glad that you haven’t been deterred from the experience. So many things could be at the heart of the explanation. It’s a tough road—avoiding speculation—but its the safest, if not the wisest course. I frequently ask myself, “what else is this about?” whenever I am stymied about a strange behavior or circumstance.

You asked about a protocol about leaving one teacher and beginning with another. I wrote a blog post about that, if you would care to read it. It’s just as hard on the teacher as it is the student and parent. It helps folks to consider all points of view. How we leave one situation to begin a different phase in life can leave disastrous consequences in our wake, and we may be unaware of what we have caused.

Anyway, it sounds like you are working toward a productive situation for your son and his continued music education.

Here is the article link:
link

Paula E. Bird
TX State University
Wildflower Suzuki Studio
http://teachsuzuki.blogspot.com (blog)
http://teachsuzuki.com (podcast)

Thank you for the Article about “Breaking Up”. It’s great to get another perspective on this emotionally charged topic!
Thanks again!


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