Imagine flying over hundreds of miles of rivers, mountains, with a town here or there but mostly vast wilderness. Then though it is nearly 1 am in the morning, through the glare of sunlight, a small city appears below.
Upon arriving at the airport, you are greeted by a group of violin and cello students playing along with their smiling parents. Keep in mind that by now it is 1:30 am. You know you have arrived at Fairbanks Alaska.
This is an amazing and special place—such hospitality and sense of the Suzuki spirit abounds.
Indeed to the clinicians who regularly trek up north in early June, it is evident that the teachers, parents, students, local businesses and schools know that all are needed on deck for and Institute to happen, as well as nurturing the students throughout the year. Teacher training is offered every year, with all teachers enrolling for whatever unit is offered—I don’t know how many times they have taken Book 1. Clinicians notice the very high caliber of students there. Many have performed at the SAA conference too.
The parents are in full force—helping with care of clinicians, at recitals, concerts, lectures, sponsoring dinners and more. The local community even donates cars.
In Alaska they pull together, yet also march to their own drumbeat. Where else would a Suzuki cello teacher in her 70’s teach a lesson then allow the student to go down to the basement to help tap some nut or bolt into the airplane being built?
I am extremely honored to accept this award on behalf of the Fairbanks Suzuki Institute. In just one week from today we will begin the 27th institute, in early June, when the sun shines nearly twenty-three hours a day and children have a hard time going to bed at all because it’s still light outdoors at midnight.
Fairbanks is located in the middle of Alaska between two mountain ranges; it’s a remote and isolated community only 200 miles from the Arctic Circle. The nearest city is a 350 mile drive south, with nothing in between except beautiful scenery and small villages. Without nearby communities to access, people in Fairbanks know that if they want something to happen they’ll need to jump in and get it done. This “can-do” attitude and the warmth of the people are what make Fairbanks special.
It was a small group of string parents who planted the seeds of the early Suzuki program. One parent took her son to Arizona on vacation and met Yvonne Tait, the president of SAA, for a cello lesson. The next thing we knew Miss Tait was coming to Fairbanks to give a workshop.
Soon afterwards, the teachers formed a loose cooperative for a weekly group lesson program, and every May around Memorial Day, we plant our gardens and gather for the Institute under the Midnight Sun.
Fostering cooperation with our community has always been key to our success. We are fortunate to be able to use the University of Alaska Fairbanks facilities, no fees attached, since the music department sponsors the institute. Faculty members give us the use of their studios and unlimited use of a beautiful Concert Hall for the week. Our World Rhythms class uses university owned steel drums.
Another strong collaboration is with the Fairbanks Symphony Association. They donate the services of their bookkeeper and allow us 10 solicit contributions under their umbrella. As part of their educational outreach, the Suzuki program was invited to participate in a week-long residency with Midori. She was incredibly generous with her time and spirit. Her visit is a perfect example of how these overlapping opportunities allow all of us to share activities and enrich many more people.
We also work closely with the Public School Music Programs. During institute, we borrow violas from them at no expense. In the fall we help them recruit for their programs by doing a day-long School Tour. For over 15 years we have held our group lesson program in a public school for a nominal annual fee.
Our group lesson cooperative has now grown into a non-profit corporation, the School of Talent Education. We do have a cold weather policy—classes are cancelled at -30 degrees! To encourage ongoing teacher training, FSTE pays for teacher training courses at institute. Institute is seen as an outgrowth of our year-long program and the grand finale of our year.
Over the years, the Fairbanks Business Community has been very generous with Institute. Rental cars and piano tunings art donated, and local businesses give us reduced rates during the high tourist season. My husband, Tony, as the chief fundraiser, has many small businesses donating to our cause.
At the heart of our learning community are the wonderful parents that volunteer to cover many of the support details behind Institute. One of these “Saints” is the volunteer coordinator. She calls on parents to help with faculty airport pick-up, hospitality baskets and homemade lunches. Another parent hosts the faculty dinner where we have fresh salmon and halibut flown in from Kodiak Island. Our graduation reception is hosted by a parent of a student who is now in college. Our parents often give unusual invitations to the faculty during the week—flightseeing over Mt. McKinley, dogsled rides followed by kennel visits to pet the puppies; kayak river excursions, or a day at the Chena Natural Hot Springs.
I speak for the teachers of Fairbanks when I say thank you to the SAA for their encouragement and support over the years. The short-term teacher training courses have been critical to teacher growth and development. The whole Suzuki movement has inspired our teachers to set a high standard of excellence for our students, with many of them coming to perform at this conference and to attend major conservatories after they graduate. It’s exciting to see what can happen when we combine our talents and efforts to work together. The sum of what we do is far greater than what each person could do alone. Building bridges to bring people together in learning communities is at the core of the success of the Fairbanks Suzuki Institute. Thank you to the SAA for providing the framework and inspiration.