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SAA 14th Conference: Minneapolis, MN, May 27-31, 2010

Dear Colleague,

Can you believe it was the 14th Conference sponsored by SAA?

I thought you might be interested in some of the major events, particularly the sessions related to piano.

I will begin with the Teacher Training day on the Thursday. Pam Brasch and Joanne Melvin presented a ‘promo’ for the newly launched SPA course, and it would seem that there is a hugely favourable response amongst the few teachers who have been lucky enough to take the course. Do watch for the course being offered in your area, and if any of you would like to sponsor a SPA course, check the website for details. It is an SAA course, and the Office does furnish a lot of help.

Trainers also heard about the new SAA Certificate of Achievement; nine teachers were awarded the first Certificates on Saturday morning. You will hear more about the topics covered in the cross-instrument breakout sessions from other sources.

Whether you are a Piano Trainer or not, I would like to tell you about the Piano Trainer session. It’s time for a revision of the Piano Syllabus. Trainers, have you checked your copy lately? It is the briefest of documents. Inspired by the extensive Suzuki guitar Syllabus just minted, our CEO Pam Brasch is in the process of gathering a committee of piano trainers together to develop a new Syllabus. Piano trainers recorded suggestions to pass on to the Committee. It was recommended that the Committee establish a ‘snapshot’ of what should be expected of a student when he completes each book. I think we all know what skills our book one student should have when he has finished book one. On this basis the committee could establish what needs to be covered in book one. Trainers were reminded that a syllabus details what skills should be covered in each unit; it is not a ‘how-to’ manual. Trainers can make use of the syllabus to frame their course outlines, and it will provide guidelines for their teaching. In addition, a detailed syllabus will help standardize what trainers are offering. Trainers were assured that the syllabus does not limit their creativity in how the guidelines are implemented.

Michiko Yurko had a novel idea to discuss with us. As part of piano trainers’ ongoing concern about generating positive publicity about Suzuki piano pedagogy, her suggestion was to set up a program on YouTube which would feature fine performances of Suzuki piano students. There are obvious legal and technical implications of such a project; these are being studied at this moment. Stay tuned—literally!

The theme of the Conference was Teamwork, and the theme was carried out from many points of view. While there were some traditional conference features like the Piano Concerto performance—excellently executed by Noah Kraus from New York, the Master Classes were conducted by our own well-known teachers such as Doris Koppelman and Hikari Nakamura. There was one exception: Donna Kwong of the Claremont Trio, the only Guest Piano Clinician of the Conference.

Another special feature of the Conference was the non-preformed Chamber Music ensembles including piano. Advanced students had the opportunity to audition to come to Minneapolis ready to rehearse a Chamber work, such as the Mendelssohn Piano Quartet, Op. 1, No. 1 and the Schumann Piano Quintet. Students who had never met each other before coming to Minneapolis worked for three sessions with selected Suzuki teachers to prepare themselves for a Master Class on Sunday with the young artist clinicians, all of whom were former Suzuki students.

Piano teachers had a wide variety of sessions to attend. Our thanks to Piano Coordinator, Joan Krzywicki, and her Assistant, Malgosia Lis. I will list the piano sessions, with no details; there will be a complete summary in issue 38 #4 of the Journal.

Cathy Hargrave got us started with an Overview of Piano Technique, followed by Anne Marie Olsen with her presentation, complete with a young student, on Teaching Beginning Lessons and Technique to 3-5 year old Suzuki Piano Students.

On Saturday afternoon the question was how to choose what to do from the choice of SEVEN track sessions where teachers gave shorter sessions inspired by one of the seven themes such as “Working with Parents”, “Business and Studio Development”. Pianists Jane Kutscher Reed, Nicole Elliott, Rita Hauck, Susan Bakshi were among piano teachers participants.

On Sunday, Marilyn Andersen and Gail Lange jointly presented The Growing Hand from ages 4 to 14: The Piano teacher Needs to be a “Hands-on” Observer followed by Ellen Berry’s question to us: Are you Really Listening?: Developing our Students’ Musical Taste.

Monday we woke up to attend a piano group class. Caroline Fraser proposed: Piano Group Classes: Just Do It!

A special presentation to all pianists was done by Mary Craig Powell, who is Chair of the ISA Piano Committee. E.L. Lancaster, Vice-President of Alfred Music Publishers, also on the Committee, was present with her, because the remaining volumes of the New International Edition of Suzuki Piano School were unveiled at the Conference! The new volumes are splendid collections of piano repertoire from all eras representing works by composers of many nations. Of course, many original pieces remain; some have been shifted to another volume, but I am sure you will all be excited to purchase all of the new books. Look for introductory offers in your local music store!

The book/CD combo for Books 4-7 is not available until August, but Conference participants got to hear the first draft of the new recordings, which have been performed by Seizo Azuma, concert artist in Japan. There was just time to hear performances of the new pieces in the repertoire.

A significant aspect of all SAA conferences are the keynote addresses and this Conference was no exception. Conference attendees were treated to two outstanding keynotes. Robert A. Duke, a veteran guest of SAA Conferences, presented a session: How Children Learn…and How They Don’t on the Friday and on the Sunday, Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, and a Suzuki parent, outlined the inspiration for this best-seller volume. A great admirer of the Suzuki movement, Daniel Coyle referred to the young Shinichi Suzuki’s defining moment when he heard Misha Elman’s recording of ‘Ave Maria’ as an “identity level moment” in Suzuki’s life. We Suzuki teachers are motivated by our mutual belief in the work of Dr. Suzuki—the Suzuki method. Daniel Coyle referred to this as an identity linkage—one of the important factors in the motivation to pursue a passion. Suzuki teachers are linked together by this passion to help children learn to express themselves through music.

A Mini-Keynote was presented by Carrie Reuning-Hummel whose topic was ‘Teamwork: Embracing Paradox’. As part of her research on communication Carrie has analyzed many ‘teams’ that exist in different domains in the world today, including string quartets. Some individuals are part of a team without knowing how to work on a team; it is her wish that Suzuki teachers see themselves as a functional team; they have interest in their product. We Suzuki teachers work within a structure and share our ideas so we can reach out to a wider world.

Our inspiration continued through to the final hour of the Conference when Chair-elect Dr. Mark George gave the closing address: Mark challenged all of us to be “owners” of the SAA, defining SAA as a vehicle or network for ideas. If we develop an “owners’” mentality it will be natural to invest in our organization wholeheartedly. Mark contends that “owners of the SAA identify with a cause greater than simple self interest.”

In a spirit of collaboration SAA members should be unceasing in their belief that they CAN change the world. By helping parents realize the potential of their children, the world can be a better place. We all remember the famous quotation by Pablo Casals when he heard the concert of 400 Suzuki students in Tokyo in 1961: “…perhaps it is music that will save the world”. It is up to us to strive to make this wish a reality.

Having attended all 14 of these Conferences, I do believe this was one of the best!

Gail Lange
Piano Representative
SAA Teacher Development Committee
June, 2010

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