“Witches’ Dance” situation

Deirdre Oehrtmann said: Aug 25, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Windham, ME
5 posts

I have been a Suzuki teacher for decades and this is the first time this has ever happened and have never heard of it before. I have a family who has been dedicated beyond belief, have attended groups and institutes. They are about to bolt because of their strong religious beliefs. They do not want to let the evil “into their child’s heart” by introducing the subject of witches into her life. They refuse to have anything to do with the song or exposing their child to it. I have offered to allow this child to skip it or to “rename” it while we are in lessons. However, I have also explained that there will be no way to avoid exposure to the song if they go to groups or institutes. And how are they going to do listening and avoid the song? Should I just cut the chord and tell them they will have to go to a traditional teacher because they can never avoid exposure to this song? HELP!!!

Susan Sponheim said: Aug 25, 2013
Springfield, MO
1 posts


Is your own mother’s name Ann? Were you nine years old in 1967? I may
have received rides from your Mom to the Santa Fe Opera rehearsals.

Anyhow—about your question—decades ago, witches were fanciful creatures
who rode brooms and were one of the Halloween costumes little girls wore.
More recently, witches have been shown to be real people who do terrible
things to innocent persons. So I can understand a devout family trying to
escape exposure to a song named after witches.

I would allow the child to skip the song. I would put the technique in a
review song—like a new variation of Twinkle. I would think that the
parents could somehow re-record the listening CD, skipping Witches’ Dance.
In a group setting, the parent could take the child out of the room for
five minutes while the group plays and works on Witches’ Dance.

You could also teach the Christian children to play Jesus Loves Me (in the
key of A). This can mean a great deal to Christian parents.

If you asked all your parents, you might find a few more who feel
uncomfortable with the name “Witches’Dance” but who have been shy about
expressing it.

These are just a few thoughts “off the top of my head.” I hope they help.

Susan Sponheim

On Sun, Aug 25, 2013 at 3:45 PM, SAA Teachers’ Corner Discussion <
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Wendy Caron Zohar said: Aug 25, 2013
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

Tough question! Susan, you’ve made so many good suggestions, and I agree with what you’ve written. I’d be tempted to rename it Dance of the Fireflies! or dance of some other animal that sparkles, laughs, or has a special aura, around which a dancing story could be built.

I think it might be helpful for them to know that Paganini was not only a dazzling violinist who amazed audiences with supernatural abilities on the violin, but also a master story teller who could describe whole images and stories in his playing and with his compositions. They might be interested to know that this is the theme, around which he constructed a brilliant set of variations that are wonderful to listen to! The Suzuki method has nothing to do with witches; it’s just the name of the piece, and the piece is not spooked or evil! Its melody is purely playful, jocular and joyful.

However, it’s sounding like this family’s religious beliefs may bar them from attending Suzuki Institutes as the piece may be on the play list, and it may be unavoidable.

I am concerned that this family’s religious approach to “strict cultural screening”, keeping their daughter far from those aspects of Western culture that deal with, or mention “dark forces”, evil and scary fantasy, and redemption from fear or evil; themes that basically fill our literature, art, music and films, will create the necessity to raise this child in a kind of hermetically sealed protective bubble, much like people who suffer from a loss of their immune system. I wonder how the parents will react to such gems such as Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, Tartini’s Devil’s Trill, Berlioz’ Sinfonie Fantastique with its Witches’ Dance and Procession to the Gallows etc., Goethe/Gounod’s Faust, Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, Don Giovanni, Verdi’s Macbeth, Tchaik’s Swan Lake, and on and on, with endless examples of more witches, witchcraft, jealous characters who cast spells, and other unmentionable evils and bad people who befall terrible fates, or escape them by finding the light !! This family may not be prepared, or amenable, to one day having their daughter being exposed to the body of classical music at all, unless at some point they undergo some change of mindset!

Wendy Caron Zohar

Sue Hunt said: Aug 26, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

If you want to rename it, you can do so with a clear conscience. These are variations on a theme from FranzXavier Süssmayr’s ballet, “Il noce di Benevento.”

How about asking her if she would like to rename this piece herself and if she could write some appropriate lyrics for it (strictly for home consumption). However, I don’t know what you will do when your other students are all clamouring to play Witches Dance.

The bowing technique makes a super Twinkle variation. The rhythm of the first 8 measures fits one section of Twinkle perfectly. Kids love the fast fast triplets and retake.

This piece is an important teaching piece for the left hand as well, with fast changes between new finger patterns in the minor section.

Then there’s that dance…

Seriously, you are the teacher and if a parent doesn’t want a child to learn the subject matter that you teach, she is perfectly free to look elsewhere. Shielding a Suzuki child from a popular piece like this is not possible.

Deirdre Oehrtmann said: Aug 26, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Windham, ME
5 posts

Thank you all for your responses! Of course, with Halloween on the horizon and living in New England (Salem and the Witch Trials), this is a more difficult problem. I live in an area where over 150 different languages are spoken at our largest high school so there is such a cross-culture here. I try to keep religion-neutral as much as I can because of this.

There are many home-schooled Christians in our area and the children are not allowed to read “Harry Potter” for this same reason. So I was just curious if anyone else had run into this wall!

Wendy—your list is the same as mine as far as musical conflict. Not to mention whether or not Drosselmeyer in the “Nutcracker” may be a wizard of some sort!

To Susan—sorry, I grew up in New England!

Colleen Rumpf said: Aug 26, 2013
Colleen Rumpf
Suzuki Association Member
Jenkintown, PA
1 posts

You’ve had wonderful responses from the other teachers. My idea would be to encourage the family to consult their pastor or whoever the spiritual advisor for their church is. This person would be the best equipped to help them figure out how best to deal with the situation from their church’s standpoint, and it would give them greater peace of mind. Arm them with whatever information you can about the Witches’ Dance, including the many excellent points provided by the other teachers here, and just prepare to be flexible if possible. I’m sure they will appreciate your thoughtfulness and willingness to work with them where you can. 

Good luck! 
“You know, people underestimate the value of a good ramble.” ~ Buffy Summers

From: SAA Teachers’ Corner Discussion

Community Youth Orchestra said: Aug 27, 2013
Community Youth OrchestraViolin, Viola
70 posts

Not to be insensitive here, but honestly, it’s just a title. What if the English translation came out to “house-cleaning dance?”

As an ensemble director, I get all kinds of flak, from people who refuse to let their kids play the soundtracks to Harry Potter, or people who go bonkers when I have string ensembles study Bach’s many chorales, or can’t deal with anything involving the supernatural in works by Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, etc…

I invariably say “well, these subjects are works of fiction. They don’t actually exist.”

Aimee said: Aug 27, 2013
Aimee Morrill Briant
Suzuki Association Member
Mine Hill, NJ
2 posts

Hi! One more thought from a previous experience with this- the kids could simply stand in rest position during this piece as a statement of their convictions. We had a family do this at the school I used to teach at, and they were both comfortable with this solution and happy to share their reasons with those who asked.

Carol Gwen said: Aug 27, 2013
Carol Gwen Kiefer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Washington Crossing, PA
75 posts

Hi Deirdre,

Yes, I lived in an area with a core group of home-schooled families who had religious differences with the public schools.

So many great comments, I hate to muddy the waters further…

BUT, it’s my opinion to respect the family. Religious tolerance teaches more than a song in Book 2.

Best regards,

Jennifer said: Aug 28, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
9 posts

Hello Deidre,
It is interesting that you posted this question, because as a child I was in the same position as the student in question. (And it was terrible! haha…)

When I reached Witches Dance, my mother regarded it as off-limits. When it was time to learn it, we ended up changing the name and giving it new words (from the Bible) after my teacher explained the important pedagogical value in learning to play the piece. However, I had to leave during group class, and I remember being very embarassed. (I think that was worse than just being exposed to the piece, especially since I knew it was “just a name!)

However, it was nearly impossible to sway her, as I’m sure it is with these parents. They have the best interest of their child at heart, and if you do your best to show that you do too (within reason), they will hopefully recognize that and be thankful for a solution. I guarantee this is not the first time the parents have run across a situation that presents subject matter they want their child protected from (there are many activities most children are allowed to participate in that this child will not be allowed to, like athletics or girl/boy scouts), and they will appreciate your understanding and trying to help. (well, hopefully!)

I also teach a family who are quite conservative, and when they first came they told me they wanted to play hymns. We discussed the necessary process to learning to play the instrument and the importance of learning correctly for one’s physical health, as well as the many reasons I advocate the Suzuki method. They decided they could tie in at-home Bible lessons to each song and make their own hymns out of them. We haven’t reached Witches Dance yet, but I have a feeling that this will not be an issue since they already have a method of dealing with “non-Christian” pieces.

Deirdre Oehrtmann said: Aug 28, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Windham, ME
5 posts

An update! The family is NOT leaving the ship! Fortunately, the father is a techno-wiz and has already taken up the task of making a “practice copy” of the CD without “Witches”. We’ll see how things develop as we get back into the routine in September when groups start up again. Thank you to all for your responses and inputs. They have been a great help!

Sharon Miller said: Nov 11, 2013
Sharon MillerTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Harrisonburg, VA
7 posts

I’m entering this discussion late because I just had this happen to me with a conservative Russian family. A friend directed me to your topic.

Although I explained the teaching points of the piece (and the fact that the piece is not about witchcraft) the subject is non-negotiable for this family. I love Sue’s idea of using the rhythm with Twinkle. I’m just going to do the whole variation with the rhythm of the 1st 2 measures and suggest it to her group teacher. (Of course, Witches Dance will still be played at group.) Then we are going to learn all of the arpeggios in the same manner that all of my students do as a preview for Witches’ Dance. At this point I’m planning to make up an etude for the middle section to address all of the 1/2 and whole steps.

This is such a great teaching piece that I cannot skip the teaching points it contains. It was also another opportunity to explain to the parent that the Suzuki curriculum is designed in such a way that you can’t simply skip a piece without leaving a hole in your education. Its so different than having a method book where one simply checks off each piece after 1 or 2 weeks, making it possible to skip a piece without consequence. She understands and truly is a devoted Suzuki parent.

Best wishes to you all!

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