“You need some help!” is what a new parent said to me when she saw all of the activities available in the Suzuki program I was running in Elgin, IL. It just seemed to evolve, and before I knew it, there were over sixty violin students and ten cello students. It took three part-time violin teachers and a cello teacher to accommodate the growing program. There was a great deal of organization every time we had a performance, an outside clinician or an all-school play-in style concert at the end of the school year. I was doing everything from making performing outfits to renting halls for recitals and concerts with help from a few volunteers. The “you-need-some-help!” exclamation was a welcome suggestion that I hadn’t realized was necessary for my studio to run smoothly.
From that point, a not-for-profit organization of parents was formed. It is called Suzuki Plus. Their purpose is to add enrichment to the weekly group and private lessons done by the teaching staff. What has now become Suzuki School of Elgin is run as a small business (according to the IRS) and is separate from Suzuki Plus. I like to keep the lines clear between the two groups. The school teaches lessons; Suzuki Plus does the enrichment.
The parents do a wonderful job of enriching the program. They are creative in their ideas and how they go about them. I am always amazed and pleased at the extra touches that appear in the Music House to stimulate interest in their projects. It is also a collaboration in which I offer information and parents develop the information into projects. The parents in the program have been so very supportive of the Suzuki philosophy and the teaching throughout the years. I find that even though the parents change, the dedication and enthusiasm remains. There is a board of directors which meets once a month and sets direction for the coming year. It makes sure that various functions are taken care of, sets up fundraisers, purchases library materials, publishes a newsletter, sponsors a mini-institute and grants two kinds of scholarships.
Let me elaborate on the different board functions. We have a “bonfire bash” in September to start the year. This is handled by the social committee. All families are invited to my property on a Saturday evening for a pot-luck supper and a lighting of the bonfire by the Pingree Grove Fire Department. This is a public service that the firemen do to allow kids to get comfortable around them in their fire gear. The bonus for the children is that they get to climb on the truck and ring the bell. When the fire is lit, we all roast marshmallows and make “s’mores.”
At Christmas time we have an all-school party that takes place during the violin group class times. Fortunately, flute and bass groups also meet during that time. Therefore, very little extra time commitment is required. All of the instruments play pieces for each other. We have some that all instruments play together. Of course, Santa comes and quizzes the students on their practice habits. Once again, the social committee is in charge of a potluck supper. What a spread! Families can sit around and enjoy getting to know each other. Kids have time to cultivate friendships. Teachers can socialize with parents and get to know them in a way not possible during lesson time. The intent in planning this function is to keep it simple—a familiar phrase with the group. Part of the alphabet brings a main dish, part brings salad and the rest bring dessert. There is always more than enough food, and we are getting better at having enough people to help with the clean up.
In February the school has a recital week. Each student prepares a piece with the help of the teacher and plays on a recital during the week. Students may sign up for any day that is convenient—not necessarily their private lesson days. Their lesson for the week is to play on recital. The Suzuki Plus parents host the reception after each recital. I ask that two parents be the hostesses per program. Each family brings a snack and Suzuki Plus provides punch. It is always interesting to me to see how the parents decorate the table. They like to bring table cloths and floral arrangements to make the occasion important for their children. It is another wonderful time of getting together to make music, socialize and have some goodies!
Three times per year, a newsletter is published that gets better with each issue. There are articles by the president informing people of upcoming events and commitments. I write an article as director of the school. Sometimes it is philosophical, sometimes informational. I like it when parents share an idea that has worked for them during practice time. Sometimes there will be a child’s drawing. We always put in achievements of the students—book graduations, auditions into local orchestras, attendance at summer institutes. We also put in non-musical accomplishments. With computer technology photos have been added that bring a whole new dimension to the newsletter. Everybody in the program loves the newsletter. When it comes out, parents are buried in it until it has been read!
Excerpt only. Read the complete article in the American Suzuki Journal.