One minute I’m home, playing gigs, teaching, getting ready for Christmas, the next I find myself on a midnight flight to Lima, Peru, on my way to take part in the XX International Suzuki Festival.
For the last two years, I had been corresponding by email with Caroline Fraser in Peru. She contacted me through my website, in which I had described my hoped for mission of teaching violin and viola to poor or orphaned children in Latin America. She told me about their program in Peru and how each year more and more teachers and students were attending their yearly Festival from all over Central and South America. I was interested, especially when she sent me photos of young boys in an orphanage happily playing violins and cellos.
Caroline then announced that this year the Suzuki Association of Peru was launching a viola program, and that Bill Preucll, Suzuki Viola guru, would be going to Peru. That did it. I bought my ticket within days, arranged for my students to go to my colleagues and prepared to go. I took with me a large box of Suzuki music, donated through the studios of Theresa Plotnick, Anne Lyon and myself. I also brought along a small viola, originally donated by the Evans family from my studio. A local dealer, VA Hill, restored the viola without charge and donated a bow and Suzuki books.
Return to Peru
I should mention here my special interest in Peru. While I spent the first week in Peru discovering the miraculous development of the Suzuki movement in Latin America, the second week was devoted to a personal journey to discover my roots. I had lived in Lima as a child, from the ages of two to ten years. My mother was Peruvian, born in Matahuasi in the Mantaro Valley in the Central Highlands. My sister, eight years older than myself, was born in Lima. While I had traveled to Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Ecuador, it had not occurred to me to revisit my mother’s country until everything fell into place this year; a confluence of my life’s present (Suzuki) and my life’s past. That second week was a marvelous mythical personal journey into true Quechuan culture with its rural, musical, and agricultural roots and expressions. For further reading in this aspect of my trip to Peru, visit my personal website at www.Wisedogs.com/carmen.
Peru and the Suzuki Movement
The progression of the Suzuki movement within Peru parallels countless such movements all over the world. But somehow Suzuki seems to fit Peru like the proverbial glove. Peruvians are kind, gentle people who seem to accept life on its own terms. Family comes first. They are driven to work with the sole motivation to provide for their families and to educate their children. Both men and women nurture their youngsters. This kind of family-based lifestyle is ideal fertile ground for Suzuki music instruction. Praise, encouragement, community, all fit naturally within the Latin way of life. I heard no angry words during the Festival, no impatience; children were permitted to be noisy and boisterous. Sometimes things were chaotic, yet came into focus. Sometimes events ran a bit late but no one was upset. It seems like such a pleasant and easy way to go through life.
I was glad to be in such a place for a couple of weeks, to slow down to real time instead of letting time drive me; to stop and be and to chat with a new friend instead of rushing off to the next appointment. I took this state of grace home and once in a while, when walls feel like they are going to cave in, I stop and remember those moments of peace and life becomes inviting again.
I will always be grateful to be part of the Suzuki movement in Peru and in Latin America, if only for one Festival.
I arrived about the same time as the SAA Teacher Trainers, and as we all stayed in the same hotel, I tagged along with them for the first two days through their orientation both as faculty and as visitors to Lima. Marilyn O’Boyle, whom I had known well by reputation but had not previously met, was a marvelous guide who spoke fluent Castellano (Peruvian Spanish). As she had at one time lived in Lima, she knew the ins and outs of place to go and see, where to shop, how to bargain with taxi drivers, how to use the ATMs, etc. Marilyn has been a crucial force in the training of teachers and development of Suzuki programs in Latin America for the past twenty-three years.
I met Caroline that first night at her home when she hosted all of us for orientation and a delicious home made Peruvian dinner. I was fascinated by her unique appearance. Her hair was like the setting sun flaming out on the horizon, her lovely smiling Man in the Moon face shone like silver. Throughout the Festival, Caroline radiated from a distance. Annika Petrozzi, a lovely distinguished-looking lady, also introduced herself that evening. Annika has been President of the Peruvian Suzuki Association for several years, a testament to her wonderful skills in many areas. I noted as the week evolved that both ladies were constantly at the center of groups of clamoring registrants, teachers, and staff, yet they maintained calmness like the eye of a storm. Sadly I did not meet Roberta Centurion, who works with Caroline throughout the year. She was ill the first week of the Festival.
A Latin Summer Institute
Something truly wonderful is taking place in Peru. This year, 2005, marked the 20th anniversary of the International Suzuki Festival. About 250 children and over 200 teachers came, from Latin countries and even the United States. Children and their families streamed into Lima from all over Peru; from Puno, Pisco, Huancavelica, traveling hundreds of miles to join their brethren in Lima. On the surface this event was like any of the large summer institutes held in the States and Canada. Children, parents in tow, bustled about from class to class or recital carrying minute instruments like recorders or lugging cellos. Sounds of students practicing between classes serenaded passersby. I thought to myself that one could plunk these Peruvian Suzuki kids into a Canadian play-in or vice-versa. The Festival was a carousel of Master Classes, Group Classes, Dance Classes, Choir classes, Concerts, Recitals—everything we enjoy at North American Institutes.
The 20th International Suzuki Festival was held in Newton College, an imposing private British School in the hills behind Lima. The campus rests on the shore of a small lake. Following traditional Latin architectural design, classrooms bordered a wide, cemented courtyard. This was the scene of scurrying children and teachers chatting over coffee. The campus was huge, easily accommodating the hundreds of students and teachers at the Festival.
The third-floor cafeteria overlooked the city and gave an encompassing view of the hills and lake below. The Music Department and other art departments were housed in separate smaller buildings right on the lake. Miguel, a professor on the Faculty of Newton College and one of my viola classmates, showed off his lovely office with its restful view. We watched as swans of every size and shape gently floated by, progeny of the agricultural department of the College. It was hard to imagine a more idyllic setting.
Caroline had asked me to teach a violin group class that first week. I discovered that Book Three Viola would be offered, so I registered for that. The Viola Teacher Training Course and the group teaching filled up six hours in my day.
My Group Class
My wards were a group of about twenty students ranging in age from seven, perhaps younger to about ten. They were at the level of early Book One to Minuet Three. Although I spoke Castellano, at that point I did not have the vocabulary specific to teaching violin. I had to improvise quite a bit with a lot of help from the parents.
We started right off with Perpetual Motion and they won the race to the finish. We were supposed to finish together. We had no piano accompaniment to hold us together, so I decided to launch into a series of games and activities that would teach them to watch me, such as playing Twinkle with everyone having to stop their bow when I stopped mine. We played Allegro by swooping the bow onto our heads on the up bows. I asked them to follow me with their scrolls as I walked back and forth in front and they too took turns making the scrolls swivel.
When I introduced them to “Esconda el Arco (Hide the Bow)”, you would have thought we had found buried treasure. Hands would fly up, accompanied with much squealing to be the next to either hide the bow or to look for it. I appointed a parent to keep track of who had played the game so that only four or five could play every day. I had to admit with the spacious room filled with hidey holes that this game was lots of fun. They could have played it through every group class that week and not done anything else. And so could I. I enjoyed several warm conversations after classes with parents, all of whom were enthralled by what their children were doing.
Lalliq was one of the students in my group class. I had watched Llalliq at his Master Class. With his thick black hair, dark eyes, and sharp features, at only ten years old, he looked every inch the son of long lost Inca kings. Llalliq was part of a large delegation of families and teachers from Cusco, high in the Andean mountains. I observed him fast at work as a Suzuki violinist in a Master Class. His Festival teacher showed him how to phrase, to play louder as the musical pattern moves up in pitch, softer as it descends. Llalliq’s eyes and ears took everything in. His bow was arrow straight, his tone was strong and true. He performed as he was taught. He watched his bow intently, moved his fingers almost effortlessly. He seemed to be perfectly happy playing a German Minuet. His Maestro’s advice seemed sacred to him. He played his Minuet One, fluidly, happily, with authority.
How did this little boy, who was probably at home on the craggy terraces of the cordillera, whose music is that of the mysterious, haunting sound of the pan flute come to be playing a German Minuet on a European instrument in the distant mythical land called Peru? Please read Conclusion.
I was surprised to learn that Doris Preucil was teaching a large Violin Book Ten class. It was obvious that the seeds first planted some twenty years ago had sprung into life, and that the Suzuki movement in Peru, and by extension Latin America, had grown exponentially. Peru and other Latin countries have been bringing in Teacher Trainers and have launched more and more studios year after year. Starting with the original Piano and Violin school, other instruments also have taken hold: recorder, guitar, cello, Early Childhood Education and now viola and flute. David Madsen’s guitar classes had up to twenty Teacher Trainees in Books 1, 2 and 6. David Gerry ended up with eight or so teachers enrolled in his flute Teacher Training classes. I eavesdropped on a rehearsal of the Mendelssohn Trio for violin, cello and piano, all young students. Now this is advanced stuff! The performance was exquisite and professional.
Other Festival Events
One of the highlights of the first week was a stirring evening where all Faculty members joined forces in a Faculty Concert, which included a performance of the famous Peruvian folksong, “El Condor Pasa.” A second night saw the Columbian contingent playing a boisterous set of folk tunes arranged for full string orchestra. This was followed by an ethereal performance of Cuzcoesque traditional melodies on piano.
Caroline Fraser, Annika Petrozzi and Roberta Centurion were co-directors of the Festival. Holding the Festival together on a day-to-day basis and making sure everything ran smooth were Domingo and Sara Carrera. Along with volunteers, they handled customer relations with friendly aplomb. They supervised registrations and the sales of T shirts, music bags, CD’s, special music, and were happy to recommend restaurants, gift shops and various and sundry requests.
Leaving the Festival prematurely to undertake my personal journey was distressing. In one short week, I had made many friends and witnessed the wonder of little children playing strings and other instruments in a country where most people can barely meet basic needs.
Viola Book Three Course
As a Suzuki Viola teacher, I was sure I had died and gone to heaven to have the opportunity to work with a great artist. Bill Preucil is head of the Suzuki Viola movement. He is also a world-class concert soloist and performer, who with his long-standing quartet and solo performances, has played in theatres and concert halls all over the world. During the Eisenhower era, Mr. Preucil played for the White House with the US Army String Quartet. He has worked with and alongside such luminaries as Nathan Millstein and Pablo Casals. Mr. Preucil engages his students with wry wit and charming story-telling. Although his translator sometimes had trouble explaining the funny bits, he was excellent. Mr. Preucil’s jokes miraculously whisked by the language barrier and enchanted his trainees.
Our Viola Three class comprised of five teachers hailing from Costa Rica and Columbia, two from Lima and myself from Canada. In Peru, teachers seeking credit for Teacher Training courses must fully memorize the pieces of their respective books and perform them for their master teachers. Everyone in our Book Three course handily accomplished this.
Bill Preucil believes that Book Three is the place to teach and demonstrate bow technique for expression and for enhancing performance. He talked about adding weight by keeping the arm close to the body and lightening tone by lifting the elbow judiciously. He spoke of and demonstrated bow speed and distribution. As well he showed us how stance, movement of the feet, swaying or lifting the instrument as ways to enhance performance and presentation. Throughout the course, he played for us a piece by Frescobaldi from the soon to be published Book Eight.
We observed as Mr. Preucil taught several young violists in Master Classes. They ranged in age from eight years old to eighteen. As there had not been a viola program, these students were more or less on their own in learning their instruments. One pretty young teenager had a great deal of trouble with intonation. He exhorted her to “Macchu Picchu” by playing a note and asking her to match the pitch. She understood this quite well as shown by the smile on her face. He impressed upon the Peruvian students the need to memorize their pieces in order to free them from the page. He found they required some very basic instruction. By the end of the week, all had shown great improvement and understanding of what they needed to work on.
Mr. Preucil addressed specific questions brought up by either the teachers or within the context of the master classes. Is the accent on a given stroke done more with the bow or with vibrato? He responded that the left hand challenges the bow, in other words that vibrato stimulates the bow to work in kind. Another question had to do with the movement of the thumb in shifting. He said that as the viola shoulder is so prominent that it is okay to move the thumb right up onto the side of the fingerboard to reach the highest positions. Regarding vibrato, he stated it is not necessary to play vibrato on all notes, for example very fast passages and that indeed, no vibrato leading to vibrato on repeated notes can bring out different colors when performing. He said to play the viola, as opposed to playing the violin, the viola tends to sit lower on the shoulder and is anchored a bit more in the hand, not just held by the chin. In one moment, he held his hand to his chest and stated that “playing the viola starts here.”
Peru is a third world country, and one of the poorest. Nearly half of its population is of Quechuan Indian ancestry, descendants of the magnificent Inca civilization. While there is a small middle/upper class in Peru, the vast majority struggles to put hand to mouth. Many children do not finish grade school because they must work to contribute to the family coffer.
As I watched these little children at the festival, and their rapt parents, their buoyant teachers, and all the organization that revolved around the Latin Suzuki Festival, I thought to myself, here is El Dorado. Here are the hopes and achievements of these little children, in their laughter, and in their joy in making music. Here is the hidden treasure that is being uncovered and brought to light. Traditionally, Peruvian children are brought up singing and dancing as, in the same way Canadian children learn to skate and ski. Music flows from their hearts to their instruments. The Latin American Suzuki movement is the new wind of the Andes, sweeping to distant valleys and tiny pueblos. Instead of conquistadores, Peru is enjoying a new kind of missionary, the dedicated, hard working, hard traveling Suzuki teacher.
To go back to my earlier question about little Llalliq; how is it that children from all over Latin America, including those from geographically isolated and economically disadvantaged communities, are learning to play music?
The answer is through financial support for these programs. Registration fees have to be set low enough to enable students and teachers to attend. Teacher Trainers come knowing that they will teach longer hours and that their pay will not match the rates they are accustomed to.
The Suzuki Association of the Americas is a great supporter of international events. They donate instruments, music, other resources, provide funds to support events and award teacher scholarships.
Other groups and individuals give generously to the Festival to provide scholarships and travel, depending mainly on private donations to bring in deserving teachers to the Festival. This year over 60 teachers traveled on scholarships from all over Latin America.
There is a need for donations of instruments and music to give out to students; in one village a cello is passed around from student to student for practice and for lessons. In another, students make do with paper keyboards to practice. Right now, most families do not have the Suzuki books but must depend on frayed copies for music. Teachers who have the courage and dedication to travel to the provinces from the big cities, who must ride a bus sometimes more than eight hours to reach their students, need help to meet transportation costs—for that matter, to attain a decent living wage. As in most third world countries, professional qualifications or educational level does not guarantee a higher income. Teachers often barter their services in order to envelop more students.
I have seen first hand the incredible fruits of the efforts of the Latin leadership. The Suzuki movement in Latin America is affecting many individual families from every walk of life. These students too will become teachers and performers themselves. They are a source of pride and achievement in a society that often cannot afford to support such talent and initiative on its own. At the core of learning an instrument with the Suzuki Method is experiencing a learning opportunity of the most excellent and highest quality. Each student has the potential of mastering his or her instrument so well that he or she could pass on their craft to others. This ability to help oneself improve and succeed will help a third world country exceed its economic limits and move closer to its rightful place of influence in the world. And it all starts with a little child. It always does.