Advanced students—keeping them in Suzuki programs

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Shelley Beard Santore said: Jan 23, 2012
Shelley Beard Santore
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Lansdowne, PA
4 posts

Hi All,
Just looking for ideas to combat the common myth that advancing students need to “transfer out of Suzuki” and into traditional lessons/teachers. Our program is growing very nicely, with many advancing students, however the predominant opinion of parents is that Suzuki is for “beginners” or “little children” and that one needs to study with an orchestral professional once they are past a certain point.

Also, and ideas for how to convince parents that group class is still relevant past bk 6 would be helpful (or do some of you not do group class past a certain point).

Thanks!
Shelley Beard Schleigh

Danette Schuh said: Jan 31, 2012
Danette Schuh
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Viola
Sugar Land, TX
9 posts

Hi Shelley!
I have faced that issue many times and I have also wondered why. I have seen so many wonderful Suzuki tour groups and other performing groups (i.e. Barrage) that are great examples of the amazing things a group class can do at an advanced level.
I think there are some teachers who are very, very good at teaching young children, but either do not enjoy working with teenagers or do not relate to them well. It’s important for the style of communication to change, the parent’s role to change, and the type of activities to change as students mature. If we teachers don’t make that change as the students get older, the students and parents will want to move on.
(for example, one of my high-school students at a Suzuki solo festival received the comment that their “hugger brothers” needed to be closer together. Needless to say, they never wanted to participate in that festival again. They said it was for the “babies” of the studio)
Do you think the attitude is coming from the parents or from the students and the parents are just echoing that? Is it a general attitude outside the Suzuki community in your area? Are the Suzuki students leading the youth symphonies and school orchestras? Are other teachers inviting your good students to leave your school to come study with them?

Mary Anne Polk O'Meara said: Jan 31, 2012
Mary Anne Polk O’Meara
Suzuki Association Member
16 posts

Hi, Shelley,

I think this attitude is not uncommon, and I, too would like to see it debunked. Sometimes it seems to come from the parents who have “heard” from someone—usually not involved with Suzuki—that Suzuki is only for young children. We probably can’t do too much directly about these comments, other than to produce more and more advanced students.

However, I also hear it from Suzuki teachers, which I find very unfortunate. One “Suzuki” program near us (with SAA trained teachers) says that their Suzuki program is only for 8 and under! It is one thing for a particular teacher to prefer a certain age of students, or only teach to a certain level, which is certainly fine, but quite another to say that Suzuki method is limited to the very young. This attitude among trained Suzuki teachers should not only be addressed by those of us who teach older and/or more advanced students, but also by the SAA and teacher trainers.

At our school, we’ve been making an effort to have some of the younger students come to recitals in which advance students play; so parents can see how well the method keeps working as students progress.

I also think one of the things that might help keep the more advanced students in
Suzuki lessons would be to publicize bios of professional players who began as
Suzuki students, particularly those who completed the Suzuki books.
For instance, Nathan Cole presented a workshop for us a few years ago when he
was in the area as soloist with Symphony in C. He completed the Suzuki books
with a Suzuki teacher (at age 12) before moving on for more advanced studies. A
graduate of Curtis, he went on to the Chicago Symphony for 7 years and now First
Associate Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philaharmonic. He could still play
the Suzuki repertoire and was great with our students. Of course, some Suzuki teachers also teach repertoire beyond the Suzuki books, and are trained and capable of doing so!

I wish the SAA would track Suzuki kids who go on to professional careers. Certainly not that everyone will become professionals, but it would show parents more of the possibilities.

Another example is Yumi Kendall (John’s granddaughter and assistant principal cellist in the Philly Orchestra who publicizes her Suzuki roots. http://www.dcmf.org/artists/Kendall.html

As for group classes for teens (whatever level in the rep), we have replaced
group classes with ensembles, but have teens attend group when we are rehearsing
for performances involving playdowns. They come to ensembles with a faculty
coach half as frequently as group class, but are expected to practice together
with their ensemble in the time between coaching sessions. We got this idea
from another Suzuki school, which may or may not do it the same way, but they do
have teens coming for ensembles rather than traditional Suzuki group classes.

I’d love to see more ideas, particularly about keeping more advanced students in the Suzuki fold!

Shelley Beard Santore said: Jan 31, 2012
Shelley Beard Santore
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Lansdowne, PA
4 posts

Mary Anne—great ideas! I have been doing some similar posts on my studio fb page highlighting now famous Suzuki students and such. I have also been asking around about the group/review components. I am TOTALLY sold on the importance of both group and review. It is a corner stone of our program. However, I am finding out that many of the best Suzuki programs out there do ween the kids off of both at some point. When exactly that should happen seems to vary.

Within our program, the parents seem to get it and have no qualms about what we are doing. The issues seem to arise when the get involved with other non-Suzuki music parents (mostly through area youth orchestras). Suzuki has a bad reputation around these parts unfortunately. I hope that will change. I have also seen and experience a lot of blatant student poaching. I’d like to think that orchestral musicians want my students because they are doing well but that is no excuse for going after them so aggressively. I also think some parents feel pressured to study with certain prestigious (and connected) performers as a way to advance within certain ensembles.

I am also hoping that our touring group will be a motivator to these kids.

Anyway, more ideas are always welcome!

Mary Anne Polk O'Meara said: Feb 1, 2012
Mary Anne Polk O’Meara
Suzuki Association Member
16 posts

It is the same here, parents talking to other parents, frequently of students who don’t play as well! One of our violin students (age 8 I think) audition for an orchestra musician who told her that she was one of the best students she’d ever seen, but too young for her to take on. Then she told the mother that she preferred to take students form another Suzuki teacher in the area and the mother took her child to that teacher! Also piano students who run in a certain circle who’ve heard that teacher x is the best.
THere are some areas of the country where Suzuki IS clearly the most popular method, good reputation, orchestral musicians supporting it. I’d love to hear from folks in those areas.
I think touring is a great idea.

Merietta Oviatt said: Feb 2, 2012
Merietta OviattViolin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

What a problem! Mary Anne, would you feel comfortable with asking the other Suzuki teacher out to lunch and talking to her? I know that when I lived in Louisiana I had a student who wanted to switch to me and also a student who wanted to switch from me to another teacher. In both situations the other teacher and myself met and talked about it. When I found out that the student who wanted to switch to me was just doing it so they could go on the tour with my group, and that it had nothing to do with the other teacher’s teaching—I spoke to the mother and asked them to stick with their current teacher for the remainder of the semester (which would make the child miss our trip) and be really open with their teacher and see if she could make some adjustments. They remained with her and were REALLY happy. The student who left me just needed another teaching style. The new teacher and I talked and we both decided this was a good move for her. I know it can’t all be so perfect, but Suzuki teachers are really not into taking each others students. How about asking your local Suzuki association to have a meeting addressing the general issue of handling students who switch Suzuki studios?

Also, don’t be afraid to tout the successes of your older/advanced students from the past. Heck, tout some of your own successes as a professional musician! Don’t do it all the time or be annoying about it, but you can tell a story about how you had a student who also struggled with Etude—but now they are studying music in college. Don’t make it up, be honest, but using some of your stories can re-assure parents that you can and have taught older and more advanced students with great success. Also, we are musicians!! Tell some of your own stories about how when you were playing a gig you realized that the rhythms in your part were exactly the same as Hunter’s Chorus. You may not perform with world famous symphony, but you are a pro and are more than qualified to get a student to the pro level.
The studios I see that are really successful have really great parent education set in place before the students begin. Some parents may not want to do this, but those who do usually stay through the long-haul. Setting that foundation can really help you in the long-run.

These are such sticky situations! I wish you all the luck and thank you all for sharing! I am learning so much from your posts and love all of your great questions and ideas! You ladies are just awesome!!!

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
www.uwsp.edu/suzuki
www.merietta.com
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