Bill Starr and Allen Lieb

Allen Lieb and Bill Starr during the Creating Learning Community Award presentations at the 2014 SAA Conference.

Image by Andreas Beuschel

Bill and Connie Starr were the focus of a surprise celebration for Bill’s ninety-first birthday on the evening of May 23 in Minneapolis.

Students of Boulder Suzuki Strings, the Suzuki program founded by Bill Starr thirty-two years ago, remained on stage at the conclusion of their International Ensemble performance, forming a colorful backdrop to the award ceremony. The theme was building local Suzuki communities: Suzuki in Knoxville, TN (20+ years), and Suzuki In Colorado, CO (20+ years). The interview style recalled (for older members, at least!) Ralph Edwards’ radio and TV series, “This is Your Life.” The event was expertly hosted by former Tenneseean, Allen Lieb, Violin Teacher Trainer and second generation Suzuki pioneer.

Speakers offering tributes to Mr. Starr’s early work in Japan and the strong Suzuki community he nurtured in Knoxville were Hiroko Driver Lippman and Helen Higa. Hiroko trained in Matsumoto in the 1960s and met many excited American teachers who were traveling to Matsumoto to learn about Dr. Suzuki’s teaching method during those years; one of those was Bill Starr. Mr. Starr invited her to teach in Knoxville, where she helped build his program. She noted that during those years he traveled throughout America as a “preacher of the Suzuki method.” Through their visits to Venezuela together, Hiroko noted that “we now realize a seed was planted that eventually led to the establishment of El Sistema. For me he was so, so special!”

Helen Higa recalled Margaret Mead’s famous statement, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” She noted that Mr. Starr is a testament to the truth of that statement. “It’s just amazing—his energy, his integrity. When Helen had completed her study with Dr. Suzuki in Matsumoto, she asked him where she should go to continue her study. “He said without hesitation, ‘Bill Starr.’” Helen presented Bill with a beautiful kukui nut lei from Hawaii. She explained that the nut was used by the Hawaiians for light—that Mr. Starr represents the true light of the Suzuki method. “He made the spiritual essence of Dr. Suzuki’s method come alive for me—the tone, the heart and the ability to be moved and able to move other people.”

Susan Kemper, Violin Teacher Trainer from Albuquerque, read a tribute from former University of Colorado Dean, Robert Fink, who was responsible for bringing Bill and Connie to Boulder in 1982. “I admired Bill and what he was doing with Suzuki teaching very much, and thought that it was something that would be good for the University of Colorado string program.It was my feeling that prior to Bill’s addition to the faculty we had a fine string program devoted to performance. This was all well and good, but I felt that we also needed a string education program that was devoted to training string students of all ages and backgrounds.With Bill and Connie’s leadership a Suzuki program was established in Boulder which has thrived, providing a wonderful experience for many students.”

Fay Adams, Pianist and Piano Teacher Trainer from Knoxville, TN, teaches at the University of Tennessee and was trained by Connie. She credited Bill and Connie for her involvement with Suzuki education. Fay read a letter from Beverly Tucker Fest (Retired Piano Teacher Trainer, Boulder) who was one of the few Suzuki teachers in Boulder when the Starrs arrived. “People saw in Bill not only an excellent musician and teacher, but also a person who was generous with his time and always encouraging. We saw a man of integrity, a man of faith, and a committed husband and father. … I wish abundant blessings to Bill and thank him for his support and kindness to me and to all in the Boulder area who have become better teachers and better persons through their relationships with Bill.”

Amy Gesmer-Packman, Director of Boulder Suzuki Strings, mentioned that as an undergraduate she studied with Bill in Knoxville and came with Bill to start the Boulder program and complete her masters with him at CU. She relayed a charming story of Mr. Starr’s turning her into a positive, supportive teacher of children, allowing her to give up her crown as “Queen of the Negatives.” She thanked him for being a mentor, friend, colleague and father figure.

Carol Tarr, Cello Teacher Trainer, Lakewood, CO, and one of the founders of the Suzuki Association of Colorado, recalled Bill and Connie’s support when SAC brought the tour group to Colorado. On behalf of the current SAC President, Carol Jilling, Carol read a tribute describing Bill as “teaching with energy and gentle passion and encouraging students to reach beyond their goals. … Congratulations for a lifetime commitment to Suzuki’s principles. We are grateful for your dedication in teaching us to ‘Learn with Love.’”

Carol Waldvogel (WI) earned her masters at CU with Bill Starr. She read a tribute from Judith Glyde, retired professor of cello and chamber music at CU, and good friend of the Starrs. “He has given instrumentalists of all ages the gift of what it is like to play with love—love of their instrument and for the world in which they live. … With an engaging, infectious good humor, Bill brought to his teaching a combination of thorough knowledge, extraordinary scholarship, tremendous ability, commitment and patience.”

Gilda Barston, CEO of the International Suzuki Association, thanked Bill and Connie for their friendship and work for the ISA throughout the world. Paul Landefeld sent a tribute read by Gilda: “Thank you for all we have learned from both of you and for all you have done to establish the Suzuki Method as a truly credible educational system. … . Your example has shown us how “To Learn with Love”, how to believe in the goodness of people, how to work together for a common goal and especially how to believe that the seemingly impossible really is possible. And how do we know what is possible? Well, . . . ‘the Starrs did it.’”

Allen Lieb read a letter from Mikeo Shen, editor of the Talent Education Journal in Japan, in which Mr. Shen described meeting Bill in 2012. “In your humorous but wise comments, you preached a deep love for children and the importance of believing in their abilities, exactly as Dr. Suzuki hoped. I was wonderfully surprised by this because I saw Dr. Suzuki in you. . . . . Mr. Starr, I would like to thank you for teaching me the meaning of sharing important knowledge and skills with other people.”

Pam Brasch and Amy Gesmer-Packman presented the CLC award: “Model of Life-Long Service”: William Starr. Adding to the evening’s surprises, an enormous birthday cake was rolled out, while Boulder Suzuki Strings students led the audience in singing Happy Birthday! Bill did get the last word—in music, that is—when he spontaneous turned to the students and led them in an enthusiastic encore performance of Petersburg Polka.

Please enjoy these inspiring CLC award ceremonies on the SAA website:

William Starr

David Madsen