“In the early 1960’s, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and the Western World was a relatively lonely place to be a serious string player. As a violinist, teacher and concert-master I too felt the strong need to be part of a living family of artists–the very young, those in their teens, the university students, professionals, amateurs, moms and dads and grandparents. By an act of now historical coincidence, I discovered Mr. Suzuki in Japan. He had felt this many years before, had already proven the success of working in a total society of children and all their kinfolk. In 1964 after observing for myself his results, I was convinced we could bring all the elements together in a Western Canadian environment to fulfill my original longings for an artistic string community. We were to embark on a great dream and a gamble unique at this time in Canadian musical education.”– Dr. Thomas Rolston from the Introduction to the Society for Talent Educations’ 20th Anniversary Book.
The Society for Talent Education in Edmonton was founded in 1965 by Thomas Rolston. It was the first Suzuki organization in Canada and used the “mother tongue” method of teaching developed by Dr. Shin’ichi Suzuki of Japan. It was launched in July, 1965 when Tom Rolston brought Yoko Oike, a student of Dr. Suzuki, to the Banff School of Fine Arts to present two one-week sessions entitled “Three year olds can play.” Twenty-six children and their parents attended. By Christmas of that year, there were two violin teachers teaching 80 3-4 year olds and their mothers. A “Mama’s” orchestra of 25-30 moms were meeting regularly with Mr. Rolston. By 1966, two more Japanese teachers who had trained with Dr. Suzuki came to Canada. Their names were Yasuko Tanaka and Tomoko Otsuka. They came to teach in Canada through the generosity of a Canada Council grant. They joined Miss Yoko Oike and taught approximately 140 children. It has now been 40 years since Dr. Thomas Rolston brought the Suzuki method to Edmonton, and we express our deep gratitude and thanks to him.
An invitation was sent out to former students and teachers who had been a part of the Edmonton Society for Talent Education in the last 40 years. If they were still actively playing their instruments, they were invited to take part in the Alumni Orchestra conducted by Dr. Thomas Rolston. It was strange to think that none of the student alumni who would be playing would be any older than 43 or 44! Dr. Thomas Rolston came to conduct, two of the first Japanese teachers were present: Yoko (Oike) Wong and Yasuko (Tanaka) Eastman, and one teacher (Kim Hongyol) came all the way from Korea for the event. Betty Parker-Jervis, the tireless and longest-serving President of STE, was present from Victoria, BC.
On Saturday, May 21st there was an alumni orchestra rehearsal followed by an alumni reception. The music (Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite and H. Purcell’s Abdelazer Suite) came together almost immediately under Tom Rolston’s baton. The biggest difference to note (and we Suzuki teachers and players say “of course”) is that the people were not just reading their music and counting their bars of rest…instantly, one could hear how they were playing by listening, playing and responding to what was happening around them and making music. It was an absolutely delightful time at the reception to see old friends, former teachers, fellow students, board members and parents, several of whom had not been in contact with each other for over 20+ years. It was especially heart-warming to see the Japanese teachers and Dr. Rolston reconnecting with those students who had been in that very first class of 1965.
The next day, Sunday the 22nd of May, we had an anniversary celebration concert at Edmonton’s Concert Hall: the Winspear Centre for Music. This concert was also a day-long joint celebration concert with two other Suzuki organizations in the city: the Edmonton Suzuki Piano School and the Suzuki Charter School. The alumni orchestra conducted by Dr. Thomas Rolston performed and also accompanied every piece that was performed by the string students of the Edmonton Society for Talent Education. It was very exciting to witness what one person’s dream had become and to experience a weekend with many of the people that had been there over the past 40 years. Congratulations on 40 years, Edmonton Strings!