John was asleep again on my studio’s sofa as his eldest daughter took her lesson. The notebook on his lap contained only a few stokes of ink, obviously not enough to be of use at home practices.

And anyway, in spite of my best efforts, he did not understand the violin or how to help the girls, so any notes he took were all but useless. John’s life was very busy. His wife was earning a PhD while working full time, and John had sole responsibility for his two daughters’ activities. He also worked full time at a stressful job. His overly-filled life left him no energy to learn how to help the girls with their musical studies. When a university class John was assigned to teach conflicted with group class, I reluctantly let the girls go. There was a great mutual sadness. But John’s parting statement was a gem: “I really like the Suzuki method, except for the parent part.” (Italics mine.)

How had John missed the all-important role that parents must play in the Suzuki method? Had I not been forceful enough in conveying his importance? Was he really too burdened to desire a role? Whatever the reasons, they certainly did not lend themselves to effective Suzuki education. Let there be no mistake—Suzuki teachers do not believe that being a Suzuki parent is easy. Far from it. A parent is responsible for a child’s education, socialization, and mental, physical and emotional health. Adding the job of fostering a child’s musical growth is to further encumber parents with responsibilities which, like all things parents do, children seldom appreciate at the time.

“Parents have two jobs,” said Dr. Suzuki. “The first is to create the best environment for their child. The second is to learn how to be great parents.” Dr. Suzuki didn’t believe that parents would know how to be great parents from the moment of their child’s birth. He assumed that they would have to learn the role. When participating in a Suzuki program, there is the added responsibility of learning how to be a good Suzuki parent. For many of a child’s activities, the parent is rarely more than a chauffeur, secretary, cheerleader and fundraiser. While these support roles are certainly demanding of one’s time and energy, a Suzuki parent’s role is even more challenging. Of course the good Suzuki parent is the chauffeur, secretary, and at times, a fundraiser. But beyond that, one has to learn how to provide the emotional and educational environment for musical growth. From taking useful lesson notes to planning for successful practice sessions, remembering to play the repertoire repeatedly, and listening to the child for their subtle communications, it is difficult, time-consuming and yet ultimately, very rewarding to be a Suzuki parent. I have been both a parent of two Suzuki students, and a teacher of many. The parent’s role is decidedly the harder of the two and in need of the most support and counsel. Parents are on the front line, day-in and day-out.

At a Suzuki Music of Columbus (Ohio) faculty meeting in 2009, we discussed how we could better help parents learn about their necessary (and changing as a student grows) role in Suzuki Education. Teachers understand the need for ongoing parent education, but the parents are less likely to want, or feel they need, such support except for the crisis times—which happen to the best parents. “My child doesn’t want to practice.” “My child stalls.” “My child threw his violin on the ground!” The Suzuki Music Columbus (SMC) staff found that many parents are like John: too busy to study the practicing partner’s role as envisioned and lived by Dr. Suzuki. SMC’s required, pre-registration series of meetings were (and are) always well attended. But subsequent meetings were not, no matter how attractive and convenient we made them. In an attempt to provide parent education to a “captive audience,” the SMC faculty decided at our meeting to publish articles on the back of our weekly recital programs, which would provide parents the opportunity to read education material while they waited for the recitals to begin. The short articles, or letters, would cover such things as Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy, practical practicing suggestions, effective practicing, scientific theories of learning, the importance of technique, how Suzuki learning helps in all areas of life, and so forth. I was chosen to be the author. In the 1930s, Dr. Suzuki organized his Violin School books and included the folk song Go Tell Aunt Rhody. Thus for eighty years, Aunt Rhody has worked alongside of Dr. Suzuki teaching children musical and life skills. Since the proposed letters would support Dr. Suzuki’s educational method, Aunt Rhody™ was chosen as my nom de plume.

For four years the letters from Aunt Rhody have been well received by parents, students and faculty. The letters give enough information to be useful and start the wheels of thought, but don’t overwhelm as the information is meted out in small doses on a weekly basis.

By 2011 teachers were requesting permission to use the letters in other Suzuki programs and during summer Teacher Training courses. Accordingly, www.auntrhody.org was created in July of 2012 to enable general access to the letters. As the site is intended to be a comprehensive aid to parents and teachers, it includes:

  • The Aunt Rhody™ letters
  • Practice games for review, repetition, Twinklers, listening and general.
  • Stories and Poems
  • Printable drawings to color for repetitions practice
  • Quotes from Dr. Suzuki and others meant to encourage and inspire.
  • A few printable practice games

Any parent, teacher or teacher trainer may download anything for their use at no cost. If the letters are reprinted for any reason, please observe the following usage requirements:

  • No changes are made to the text of the article except where expressly permitted
  • Credit is given to the author (Susan Sommerville)
  • The copyright date and logo are maintained
  • The Aunt Rhody logo is used.

The site currently has more than forty-five Aunt Rhody letters organized by topic. Although SMC is a string program, auntrhody.org is useful to any person involved in the Suzuki Method since the Suzuki philosophy is universal. The few string-specific letters are under a specific, String Instrument tab. For ease of use, everything is offered free of charge with no login requirement. One may sign up to receive notification when something new is added. Auntrhody.org is intended to be a gift to the entire Suzuki community.

Auntrhody.org is also a work in progress. New articles are written at the rate of about thirty-five per year, and other ideas are in the works. I welcome anyone’s ideas, thoughts, photos or questions. In particular I would appreciate photos of harp, organ, guitar, voice or other non-string students to add (without names) to the website. I can be contacted through www.auntrhody.org or at [javascript protected email address].

No matter which point one occupies in the Suzuki triangle (parent, teacher or student), there are always things that one can learn to make the triangle stronger and the Suzuki journey easier and more rewarding. My hope is that parents, teachers and students will find auntrhody.org a useful, fun and encouraging tool for the necessary and ongoing learning that takes place while on their Suzuki journey.