Eleanor Allen and Friends

Eleanor Allen and Friends

It is with great sadness that I write about the passing of Eleanor Allen, admired mentor and dear friend of mine. Her presence will be sorely missed—especially here in the Heart of America. Mrs. Allen was one of the violinists in the “pioneer generation” of American Suzuki teachers, who took every opportunity possible to travel and study with Dr. Suzuki. 

Eleanor Burt Allen graduated from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 1937, and earned her master’s degree from the University of Kansas in 1959.  Her colleagues and friends through the years included Margery Aber, Louise Behrend, Dorothy DeLay, Anastasia Jempelis, John Kendall, Alice Joy Lewis, Joan Rooney, Norma Jean Seaton, William Starr, Louise Wear and many, many others. Eleanor was 98 years old when she passed away on November 27, 2013.

There was no doubt that Mrs. Allen was an earnest promoter of Dr. Suzuki’s ideas. Eleanor taught tirelessly in the Midwest, sometimes teaching as many as 80 students in her own home studio. She taught at many Suzuki Institutes across the United States and at two International Conferences to spread Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy. She was the recipient of the Creating Learning Community Award in 2008. Given by the SAA, inscribed on her award was “Suzuki Pioneer in the Heartland.”

Every year that the Japanese Talent Education Tour Group came to America, she (and many of the rest of us!) watched and listened as Dr. Suzuki and his fellow Japanese teachers “raised the bar” of  what the students were capable of playing. While a ten-year-old might have graduated from Violin Book Ten in the first decade or so of the Suzuki Method’s existence—a few years later it became obvious that seven-year-olds could do that, too!  Since Dr. Suzuki believed that the “mother tongue” method must be a superior form of education—the more we all could learn about language acquisition at an early age—the more the student benefited and consequently succeeded.  It was a life-long pursuit of that knowledge for Mrs. Allen and she enjoyed every minute of it.

Her memorial service was held on Tuesday, December 3, 2013, at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Lawrence, Kansas. Her obituary can be found in the Lawrence Journal-World  (November 27, 2013).  The service began with Alice Joy Lewis leading a group of teachers playing several pieces from the Suzuki Violin Books. Eleanor’s granddaughter, Whitney Allen Giller, cellist, performed Vocalise by Rachmaninoff and was accompanied by her mother, Christine Allen (Eleanor’s daughter-in-law).

The Reverend Dr. Peter Luckey conducted the service and knew Eleanor well, since this was the church where Mrs. Allen would hold her Saturday morning group lessons and the concerts for her students. He related to us two wonderful stories. The first was about Eleanor and her husband Sam, (Rev. Marion C. Allen) when they lived in the “deep” South. Sam had been assigned a congregation there—several years before their move to Lawrence. Being the Oberlin graduate that she was, Eleanor invited many children from town  (whether they were white or black) to the parsonage to learn about music. This event ruffled the feathers of some of Sam’s congregation. Several men threatened to take their families out of the church and proceeded to confront Sam. They asked him, “How can you let your wife do this?”  Sam replied, “ Well, I’m certainly not in the habit of telling my wife what to do!”

Dr. Luckey’s second story involved the scheduling of the church rooms and the Sanctuary at Plymouth Congregational throughout the school year. He said he finally learned, after several years, that when a “small conflict” came up regarding a room space, if Eleanor already had it scheduled, he would just rather solve it himself than confront Eleanor! Those Suzuki classes were just too important!

Alice Joy Lewis spoke elegantly about her friendship with Eleanor at the service. She said that Eleanor was always ready to help with advice as a mentor, and was also the consummate teacher of two of her children, Brian and Beth. Mrs. Allen taught my daughter Sarah Beth, as well. There was no experience greater than knowing that with Eleanor’s steady and unwavering confidence and belief in the Suzuki Philosophy, that  your child was going to succeed.  Marian Allen, Eleanor’s daughter, spoke at the service as well. She said that she would always picture her mother running with her, in the rain, through the streets of Paris, to get their tickets on time for a production of Cinderella at the Paris Opera. They got the tickets successfully and enjoyed every minute of it together.

Eleanor, you will be so missed.

From Beth Titterington’s daughter:

One of the memories I have of Mrs. Allen was my lesson hour of calm, steady patience which she provided in my week. Calm, steady patience is the best environment for progress, and for well-being, and every moment served as an example of this. I could then recreate it in other parts of my life. No deadline or momentary stress ever got in the way of the very important “big picture.” I am so thankful to Mrs. Allen for teaching me this concept.

Sarah Beth Ibbett