2018 Asociación Suzuki de Violin de Puerto Rico Workshop

2018 Asociación Suzuki de Violin de Puerto Rico Workshop

Image by Linda Fiore

Many members of the SAA have been in close contact with Suzuki teacher colleagues in Puerto Rico since the devastating hurricane in September 2017, providing moral and monetary support.[i] Despite formidable odds, the Asociación Suzuki de Violin de Puerto Rico held its annual workshops in January 2018, inviting nine mainland SAA teachers to join them.

Background: the Suzuki Community in Puerto Rico

In 1972, violinist Susan Ashby came to Puerto Rico from New Jersey. Her family moved so that her chemical engineer father could build the Merck Pharmaceutical manufacturing plant. Susan, who had studied at the Eastman School of Music, completed her music degree at the Conservatory of Puerto Rico and her Suzuki training with both American teacher trainers and Dr. Suzuki in Matsumoto.

Susan established the Asociación Suzuki de Violin de Puerto Rico in 1981, and it quickly became the leading Suzuki program in the Caribbean.

Upon Susan’s move back to the mainland in 2009, Dr. Marta Hernandez-Candelas of the Conservatory of Puerto Rico became head of the program, and the Asociación has now grown to include viola, cello, piano, and guitar teachers and students.

2018 Asociación Suzuki de Violin de Puerto Rico Workshop

2018 Asociación Suzuki de Violin de Puerto Rico Workshop

Image by Linda Fiore


After the devastation of Hurricane Maria, the Asociación’s attention has gone from funding workshops to supporting basic needs (food, water, shelter) for the island’s Suzuki teachers and families. Internationally, Suzuki colleagues and friends have graciously donated via the Asociación’s website, and these funds have gone directly to the teachers and families. Thanks to these gifts, the Asociación has been able to write checks for 17 teachers and Suzuki families for $200 to $1000 each, depending on the severity of their situation. The Asociación has continued to give group concerts in senior centers, low-income neighborhoods, and convalescent homes.  Marta, along with her colleagues from “Musica y País,” takes music therapy to children living in 27 homeless shelters.

Despite all the challenges, the Asociación held its annual workshop in January 2018. Dr. Hernandez-Candelas described this unique situation:

“This workshop has been going on for more than 30 years. First Susan Ashby ran it, and six years ago, she asked me to continue it. It was 18 years ago when I met Irene Mitchell, Teri Einfeldt, Linda Fiore, and other wonderful teachers at one of these events. Watching the workshop faculty teach my students over the years was a key component of my training. They have been my mentors for so many years. I feel grateful for that.

“Back in August 2017, we confirmed all the faculty for the 2018 workshop. Then Hurricanes Irma and María came in September. With all the madness that happened after the hurricane it was unpredictable to know if the workshop could happen. It was really hard to communicate with anyone, but fortunately I could stay in touch with Irene through Messenger. All the teachers started writing us to find out how we were doing. I could not answer quickly because the internet was not available all the time, but reading their notes gave me hope that things could get better. After this happened, I really felt that I have a family outside of my beautiful island. These teachers right away offered to come to Puerto Rico voluntarily. Linda and Irene insisted that we could have a workshop no matter the situation on the island was. This gave me the strength to invite the rest of the faculty to come under these conditions. Irene, Linda, David Madsen, and many other Suzuki teachers and families raised funds to help Puerto Rican teachers and families. Having these funds also contributed to make workshop affordable for all of our families.

“At that moment, we also didn’t know if the Conservatory had the right conditions to be used as a venue.We just had to wait and to be patient. The main goal for the workshop was to build community and to give a sense of hope to the families.

“A month and half after the hurricane, the Conservatory started classes, and almost two months later had electricity. This changed the school programming and more scheduling challenges came up. Still, we were determined to have the workshop. We adapted the workshop schedule so it could take place while other classes were held. Incredibly, things started to move more smoothly.

“One hundred twenty-five students registered for the workshop and 119 came. These were violin, viola, cello and guitar students from about ten studios. Also about eighty college students from the Conservatory observed classes at different points of the workshop and nineteen people took the ECC course. I feel this event was a total success. It gave us hope. There in the workshop, I saw students that I had not seen in at least four months, since before the hurricane. Now we are ready to start again and continue learning. The children were so happy and the parents were so grateful. I feel that’s my best reward. I want to thank our faculty; Linda, Domenick and Chris Fiore, Monica Lugo, Laura Jauregui, Irene Mitchell, Michael Chandler, Teri Einfeldt, Eugenio Figueroa, David Madsen, Elizabeth Pabon, Yorelys Jordan, Francisco Cabán, and the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico for believing that things can get better through Music.”

What is next for the Asociación? “Now I think we need training,” said Dr. Hernandez-Candelas.
“We need to have more Suzuki teachers with the philosophy so they can help more families. We haven’t had a unit training course in a long time.”

Linda Fiore added:

“We learned a lot about the bravery and tenacity of these people. They endured not only the hurricane, but also 22 hours of 2.0 vibrations on the Richter scale and several tornados caused by the high winds. They never stopped practicing and many are still without power—some without water. Their joy of life is overwhelming and they were the real teachers at this event.”

The final concert for the workshop was held outside while the sun set, and the music that filled the darkening night air was glorious!

Irene was asked to speak for the guest faculty at the final concert:

“As I walk through beautiful San Juan, listening to the stories of how you have managed to live through the last four months, I am reminded of Dr. Suzuki, and the reason he invented the Talent Education method.

“After the Second World War, Suzuki hiked through the countryside of Matusmoto, Japan, his home. He saw the devastation of the war, and felt helpless as he came across children who had no hope, no school, nothing to keep their minds and bodies busy.

He asked himself, ‘What can I do to help these children? All I know how to do is play the violin,’ and he decided that this was how he was going to make a difference in the children’s lives. From that small beginning, a movement and philosophy has encompassed the world, helping millions of young minds and hearts.Music has a healing force, and is a way to create beauty and nobility despite life’s most difficult circumstances.

“The teachers and I are blessed to be able to return and work with your amazing children again; thanks to Marta, the Conservatory, and your community. We are struck by your indomitable resilience, your bravery, your commitment to rise again. Puerto Rico, we are humbled and inspired by your spirit.”

Thank you for helping us to continue to make beautiful music and beautiful hearts in Puerto Rico!

For more information and further updates, visit the Asociación Suzuki de Violin de Puerto Rico website: https://suzukiviolinpr.wordpress.com

[i] For further reading on the situation on the ground in Puerto Rico, read here: https://theconversation.com/im-a-librarian-in-puerto-rico-and-this-is-my-hurricane-maria-survival-story-86426