Dragan Djerkic with students
We’ve witnessed it hundreds of times over and over and never cease to marvel at the wonder. Within three notes introduced by the piano, forty children from four to eight years old fall into three perfect lines, rest position, eyes on the leader.
And so begins a typical weekly group lesson for Book 1–2, and hour after hour, a new wave of progressively advanced Suzuki students will assemble, eager to tackle each musical challenge presented.
As parents, we can never command such rapt attention. But we are not ‘Dragans’, however loudly we roar. There is only one ‘Dragan’ they listen to. “Nobody rests! You rest at home, not here.”
Between the humor, theatrics, and strict discipline, sometimes even the kids can’t tell if the charismatic Dragan Djerkic is leading or pushing. Ultimately, their musical journey is a blend of personal discipline and joyful collective triumphs. With beaming smiles and tremendous focus (remarkable for a Sunday afternoon), the children review their ever-growing repertoire.
Throughout 2010, Dragan Djerkic is celebrating his landmark anniversary which began as the dream of a young Serbian immigrant in 1980 and has become a pillar of Suzuki tradition in Quebec. Inspired by Dr. Suzuki’s insights into how children experience and learn music, Dragan has integrated his own virtuosity developed at McGill University with his passion and gift of teaching. Under his vision, along with fellow Suzuki teacher, Vera Mirkovic Djerkic, Institut Suzuki (Montreal) has grown to nearly 100 students.
After thirty years, Dragan jokingly confesses he had all the answers to musical and parenting questions in the early years. “I was so confident, it was embarrassing! I wish I could go back to apologize to everyone who studied with me before I had my own children! I’d tell them, ‘Keep going, you’re doing great!’ and limit my advice to violin!” Older and wiser, he treasures how the children have also enlightened the teacher.
At Institut Suzuki, Dragan infuses every lesson with practical skill, encouragement, and a weekly peppering of ‘Dragan-isms’— philosophies as much about life as about music. Everything is translated into life lessons.
“It is just as easy to practice good as bad habits. If you wiggle your feet…you wiggle your mind. Plant your feet firmly and let the music move your heart instead. “
“Playing with half a heart is like living only half your life! Don’t compromise on the notes. If you don’t fix them, you teach your mind and heart that ‘close enough’ is ‘good enough’. Nothing but your best should make you satisfied.”
In a community as linguistically diverse as Montreal, music remains the universal language. With a thriving symphony orchestra, several community orchestras, and an internationally renowned jazz festival, Montreal is a cultural jewel of North America.
“Music isn’t separate from life, it is daily life. If you can learn Musette, you can learn French and every other language or foreign concept!”
Similarly, students can learn the festive gypsy music that always finds its way into school concerts (as beautifully demonstrated on YouTube). Of course, the benefits of discipline are universal, whether in music, school, spirituality, health, work or sports.
To Dragan, music can generate as much passion in life as sports, a bold claim in a town obsessed with its hockey team. An avid sports fan himself, known to pause classes for Olympic Hockey and World Cup score updates, he mischievously harnesses that interest in his students. In some years, they’ve learned the national anthems of countries hosting global competitions. In concerts, even the youngest have injected “Go Habs Go!” into the final pause of Andantino.
Freely comparing orchestra to sports, where smooth teamwork is essential for greatness, Dragan compares the bow to the hockey stick.
“You can’t score the goal if you don’t hold your stick properly! No successful team has a rogue player who operates independently.”
Like the proverbial rock in the pool, radiating out in all directions, thirty years of Institut Suzuki have made an enormous impact on Montreal. Some students continue on a musical path, while others move on to other pursuits. Still, all have been enriched with an appreciation for classical music and a sincere belief that through focus and passion, anything is attainable.
Last May, nearly one hundred currently twinkling stars were joined on stage by guest alumni and parent musicians to close the 30th Anniversary concert at Montreal’s prestigious Oscar Peterson Concert Hall. In presenting gifts of appreciation on behalf of the parents, Rick Shousha, an Institut Suzuki parent of fourteen years, mused over Dragan’s contribution to Montreal. “I asked myself: Who is bigger? Dragan or [popular Canadiens’ goalie] Halak? “Well, I have never missed a violin lesson for a hockey game, but I have missed a hockey game for violin. So indeed, Dragan must be bigger than hockey in Montreal!”
A symphony of voices and violins then united with the audience to lovingly salute and serenade Dragan Djerkic with what’s humorously called “The Suzuki International Anthem”:
Twinkle Twinkle (Little) Star…
…Like a Diamond in the sky!
There are numerous selfless Suzuki teachers worldwide who, like Dragan, have endured thousands of renditions of “Twinkle Twinkle” by the promise of waltzes, concertos, quartets, and more. You are the true diamonds and you have our deepest respect and admiration. Your nurturing inspiration and commitment will bear fruit long beyond Book 10!