August 11, 1915
Blog post: 0bjections to Suzuki Training and Teaching
Author: C.M. Sunday •
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A poster on a string forum inquired about why people seemed to object to Suzuki training. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think people object to one or some combination of the following:
1. "Mother Tongue" method & Parental Involvement: Children are taught by rote, the "Mother Tongue Method," which means repeating what teacher does and endless listening of recordings. Suzuki suggested that students listen to the recordings 50 times a day, which I think is a form of child abuse if it were really followed. But not music reading: at the earlier ages the book is really for the parents who are expected to acquire an instrument and spend anywhere from six weeks to several months learning the instrument, themselves, before their child starts. Most parents cannot or do not want to do this. The program also includes group lessons at least twice a month (harder for private teachers not associated with larger facilities at schools), where students hear others playing at different levels. This method is very contrary to the older method of starting children around age seven, by which time they are able to read. One could speculate that Suzuki lowered the age of starting to age three (!) in order to expand the commercial base of his efforts.
[ I am able to start very bright four- or five-year-olds, but I refuse to start them at age three. Unless the child is very motivated–and some of them are–the parent piece of the "Suzuki Triangle" (student/parent/teacher) has to be very strong for students to start at these very early ages. Most parents have to undertake a good deal of parent education for this to be successful, and many won't do it. Private teachers may be afraid to insist on this for fear of losing income, so the whole thing falls apart. ]
2. Asian versus Western customs: There are some customs associated with Japanese culture which are sometimes followed, but often, not, in private studios as the customs are foreign to the culture in the US, such as bowing and removing shoes at the door. It's cleaner to remove shoes at the door, but no matter how often you ask, it is not an American custom and people forget to do it. It becomes counterproductive to insist, after a while. Bowing after performances is fine, but to bow before and after a lesson is not a contemporary practice in the West and students are not going to do this.
3. Complaints against the insistence on using Suzuki books solely: From the time I began to be acquainted with this issue, until now, (a span of several decades), the practice of only using Suzuki books seems to have changed. A lot of Suzuki teachers have written their own materials to use with the Suzuki books, and there is a lot of it, a lot of it very good. I think the Suzuki books were initially considered to be sacrosanct but not any longer; this is evident on the official SSA forums.
4. Complaints against Suzuki teachers: Another objection is the level of playing of some of the teachers. The greatest leaders in this movement have been good players, themselves, but there are also some teachers who really struggle to play the several pieces in the level 4 book, the playing of which is required in order to take the Suzuki training, the audition being video taped and submitted to the SSA in Boulder, Colorado. I don't have any data on how many audition tapes are submitted and how many, if any, are refused.
5. Suzuki Training: The training itself is also a point of contention. There is a great deal of this, starting with the initial, required course, "Every Child Can." Suzuki training is offered in two ways, either in Summer Institutes or at some universities where the Suzuki coursework is offered along with degrees in performance. At Denver University, the coursework may be taken by itself in either one or two years, a full set of the violin books, and costs around $7,000 with no scholarships offered. NAU in Flagstaff offers the training also, along with a performance degree in violin or viola, and there are scholarships (the tuition is very low, anyway) along with the possibility of the playing in the Flagstaff Symphony, which pays around $3,000 a semester, I believe. Information on other universities and the summer institutes is available on the SSA pages. Summer Suzuki Institutes are very expensive, often the housing is very elegant and very expensive, though there are some scholarship funds available for teachers.
6. Cult-ish Nature of some: This by no means applies to all Suzuki teachers, but with respect to some, and less so now than in the past, there were "true believers" who were really given to negative reactions when the method or Dr. Suzuki himself was criticized. More than one traditional teacher has innocently wandered into a Suzuki forum or group, only to depart because of a storm of angry responses. I will say that I have never experienced this on the official SSA forum, where the posters are very kindly and professional.
7. Controlling nature: I do find the printed paragraph in the front of the Suzuki books, insisting that parents check with the SSA before accepting a private teacher, to be uncomfortably controlling and intrusive. In my view, this is really what most of the underlying resentment against Suzuki is about: if you don't toe the line, so to speak, your income and life's work may be threatened. People do not react well to threats, particularly if they come from players who are inferior to the university level teachers. Many universities want nothing to do with Suzuki, even if they host a program. It's understandable why.
Note that there is no such thing as "Suzuki Certification." That doesn't exist. What happens is that when you take a course, you are "registered" for that course, and prospective students can contact the SSA in Boulder and confirm your registration. University degrees, BA, BM, MM, etc., may include Suzuki training, and I think the SSA may be informed and thus the teacher is registered for that coursework, but I'm not sure about the current state of affairs in this regard.
It is very, very common for a teacher to use the Suzuki books, with little or no, or very limited understanding of the methodology as a whole. This is a sore point, naturally, with teachers who have gone to all the trouble and expense of acquiring the training. It is also very common for someone to take several semesters of Suzuki training–including observations, lectures, research requirement, student teaching–and yet not be “registered” with the SSA because the professor(s) they worked with were not official "Teacher Trainers." This was the case with the viola teacher at NAU, whom I talked with several years ago. And it is true with me. I took training at UNC-Chapel Hill, but the faculty there was very clear and honest with me in telling me that my training would not be registered with the SSA because my Suzuki teacher, Ruth Johnson, was not an official SSA Teacher Trainer. Yet UNC-CH has a huge program, hundreds of students, even group orchestras, chamber groups and theory classes for these children.
You have outlined many common perceptions or misperceptions of the Suzuki method and culture. Certainly, as in any method or set of beliefs/teachings, the way things are done in practice varies from situation to situation. Many good teachers have weighed in here, but I will note a little historical perspective. As an FYI, I studied with Dr Suzuki himself in Japan when I was a teenager, and come from a family of Suzuki teachers and admins respected in the SAA and International Suzuki scene.
Probably the most maddening and sad thing for many of us that knew Suzuki personally is the notion that he did anything with the main purpose of selling books or making money. The man was simply incapable of thinking in those terms. He had an incredible belief in what he was doing in terms of child development, and his desire to begin children as young as possible stemmed from his curiosity and belief in the "tabla rasa" philosophy of human development.
It is too bad that Suzuki did not have a better business sense, because it could have saved future generations of caretakers of the method many headaches. Some of the issues that you mention with the standardization and training/certification confusion stem from the fact that Suzuki did not think about trademark issues in the US until the term "Suzuki Teacher" fell into the public domain as a general term. At that point, it was impossible to stop people from just calling themselves a Suzuki teacher without training or a certification process. The current process of certification and training you mention is a result of trying to balance these legal issues. Many of the perceptions of the Suzuki Method that you mention have grown because of this issue as well. I think the Suzuki associations have done a good job in this regard, within difficult parameters.
Of course, as with any growing base of knowledge, child development and the Suzuki Method itself must continue to grow according to the latest understanding of science. We now know, for example, that the nature vs. nurture debate is very complex. Just as no one can now look at the work of Skinner or Pavlov or Freud and think they had all the answers, we must also put the very important work of Suzuki into historical perspective as well.
More than anything else, though, the fact remains, as Nicolette said, about 75% of top string players now come from a Suzuki Method background. Going back 50 years to the beginning of the Suzuki Method in the US, when articles were published that orchestras might go extinct in the US because of the lack of quality string players, to now, the level of string playing has skyrocketed. This is very largely due to the success of the Suzuki Method in the US. Let us continue to move forward for another 50 and beyond!
Private teacher (name withheld) (9/3/2015):
The article was very well written. As has been said many times, any method is only as good as it's teacher. I use the Suzuki books and my studio is just fine without being under the SSA. I supplement a lot too.
The part about the level of teachers and auditions caught my eye and I think the process should be addressed, but for a different reason. I had auditioned for the intermediate level and the SSA rejected it within less than 24hrs. So, they do reject some auditions, but I don't know what percent. I was concerned because the promised feedback that they gave didn't even match my audition, so I wondered if they even listened to it. My husband who is also a musician, looked at the results and said it was totally bizarre what they said! I was more upset over the money I spent on the audition than my playing being criticized by someone unnamed juror who, as far as I knew, could have been the SSA janitor. It would be helpful, I think, if they were more upfront with the process and answer questions like: who gets accepted- anyone who can play or the few who played it better (like the top 1%)? Who is actually judging? How many auditions get rejected/accepted, Etc.
I went over the audition again and polished it up more, but didn't have the heart to submit a retry, especially for another fee. I didn't want to keep shelling out money if I didn't know where it was going. My studio has been just fine without me being certified by Suzuki (oh, wait, they don't even certify!) and many of my students have been successful, so I realized I didn't need the SSA being involved in my teaching.
Myriam Harvey wrote (8/18/2015):
Dear Ms. Sunday,
Ah, well, you can please some of the people some of the time...
I am a traditionally trained violinist who attended (but did not graduate, because life intervened) Mannes School of Music, New York, and studied with Vladimir Graffman (pupil of the famed violinist and pedagogue Leopold Auer).
I picked up the Suzuki books and began using them in my private studio when I was financially desperate; my husband had a long period of unemployment, and we had four children at home. I thought, "I can do that," and built up a successful studio, using the Suzuki repertoire, beefed up with technic books and other complementary ensemble, solo, and duet music from the classical literature.
A few of my students reached high levels of competition, graduated with degrees in Performance, and are now professional musicians.
When I was 50, I had the opportunity to take Every Child Can and Violin/Viola Book[s] I. I went to NAU, by the way, for that training.
I was astounded at the quality of the teaching, and performing by the students. It was a real epiphany in my musical life. I immediately began to put into practice what I had thought I was teaching for many years. I also continued my training by taking Books 2 and 3. (Life is still intervening, but I plan to take more books when the opportunity presents itself.)
Probably one of the validating experiences in my Suzuki teaching was observing my students compete in "traditional" performance competitions and score highly with the judges.
I have evolved as a teacher and a human being over the 30 years of my teaching life. I use more "Suzuki" and less "traditional" teaching techniques. I give individual, rather than group, recitals. I want my students and their support team to be happy, rather than graduate from a book a year.
Oh, by the way, I teach students as young as three and up into their 80's. I also teach fiddling to my classical students, and classical technique to my fiddling students.
I do not advertise, as all my students come to me by word of mouth (even though I am listed in the Suzuki Journal).
I have the best job in the world.-best wishes, Myriam Harvey
PS I read someplace that Dr. Suzuki taught lessons at no charge. He relied on the violin factory his father founded for financial support.
Response from Alan Duncan (8/14/2015):
Your article on objections to Suzuki training and teaching succinctly captures commonly-held beliefs about Suzuki talent education.
An issue that I hear and read frequently is that advanced Suzuki-trained kids may be technically proficient but lack the depth of musical expression because their learning and playing is so “programmed.” I am unaware that any data support this belief; and I frankly disbelieve it. But the sentiment is out there.
As for the speculation that Suzuki lowered the starting age to 3 in an effort to expand his commercial enterprise, I don’t know. Nothing in what I’ve read suggest that Suzuki had entrepreneurial ambitions that exceeded his ambitions of seeing children learn to play well. I suspect that pushing the limits on age had more to do with the fundamental theoretical connection between language acquisition and development of musical talent.
I would also add that I’ve encountered negative reactions to Suzuki talent education based on its reliance on parental involvement. Some traditionalists see it as a crutch that props up marginally-committed students until they finally develop enough power to overcome parental objections to quitting.
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March 8, 1915
Blog post: Why We Play
Author: C.M. Sunday
In response to a poster who was complaining that he had studied the violin for two years and had gotten bored and frustrated that he had not made more progress:
I think there are two things to consider (at least): (1) human beings, according to the learning curve charts from psychologists' offices, don't learn in a straight line, even if your IQ is in the stratosphere; we learn in an undulating curve, that moves upward if we keep at it, but it's not a straight line, but full of ups and downs; and (2) It's unrealistic to think you could even begin to learn the violin in less than five years. I think five years is when students begin to get it, and seldom sooner than that. 10 years to what might be considered mastery. No exceptions, no shortcuts.
The violin is a difficult instrument. Except for the harp, the most difficult. You have to love it, enjoy it, and feel compelled to play it, particularly if you're an adult learner.
One thing you might try is to play something besides Suzuki; try fiddle music, blues or Cajun. And while I'm not suggesting you change teachers, there is nothing wrong with taking a few coachings from someone else, join a fiddle group for adults, play folk music with friends, or find a church group to play in. You may just be bored, and music should never ever ever ever be boring.
I just thought of a postscript: I'm not accusing or criticizing you in the least; there's not enough information in your OP to do that, and even if there were, it's not my place to do it, or evaluate it. But know this; music is an art form. It cannot be pursued successfully without a vein of humility somewhere. It's never going to go well if you're thinking about yourself. It will go well if you approach it with humility.
Think about why you want to play. I have a list (I've been doing this a long time):
Why we play.
...I'm sure there are other reasons.
- The feeling of being a part of an ancient tradition
- Sharing, if only briefly, with the greatest minds of the past
- The sense that you are pursuing the thing which you are most suited to do
- The pleasure of accomplishing something difficult and highly competitive
- The pleasure of the audience
- The sensual pleasure of the music, particularly when it goes well
- The pleasure of working with your colleagues
- The identification of the self with the profession
- The joy of forgetting the Self
- Dressing up, making money, the pleasure of having good equipment
The sense that you are contributing in some small way to the peace and intelligence of the world
- The sense that you may be inspiring people with hope and beauty --and perhaps inspiring some children to have a better life
There is so much other material to look at. If the OP is taking lessons for two years and the only books he's worked out of are the first two Suzuki books, he may have one of those teachers who stick with that because they don't know anything else and are really not musicians.
I hate that people buy into that Suzuki-only prison, when there is so much else to make their studies interesting:
77 Variations on Suzuki Melodies: Technique Builders, William Starr
String pedagogical materials by William and Constance Starr
Quint Etudes, Shinichi Suzuki
Note Reading for Violin, Shinichi Suzuki
Position Etudes, Shinichi Suzuki
Alice Kay Kanack: Fun Improvisation for
Tetratunes, Sheila Nelson
Ten O'Clock Rock, Edward Jones
Red Parrot, Green Parrot, Edward Jones
Bags of Tunes, Mary Cohen
100 Classical Themes For Violin
100 Solos - Violin
Sing. Play. Learn. 80 Favorite Songs for Violin in First Position
Violin Scales and Arpeggios in One, Two, and Three Octaves: Based on Carl Flesch
40 Christmas Songs for Violin in First Position
Fifty Sacred Songs, Hymns, and Spirituals for Violin in First Position
Basic Fiddlers Philharmonic Celtic Fiddle Tunes
Easy Fiddle Solos
Irish Music for Fiddle Made Easy Book/CD Set
Jazz Fiddle Wizard Junior: Bk. 1, Bk. 2.
I hadn't remembered that you posted in this forum before about your efforts to learn the violin, and posted the video of your playing. Your posts inspire divergent thinking, especially from musicians who have spent a lifetime, studying and teaching the instrument.
Carl Sagan is one of my role models. Ann Druyan on Carl Sagan
[The Varieties of Scientific Experience, 2006, p. xiv]:
. . .more than 20 years later what remains with me was his extraordinary combination of principled, crystal-clear
So I too, if I am able, want to be understanding about your irritation in not mastering the violin in two years.
The violin is an old instrument; the first violins developed in northern Italy, early in the 16th century, 500 years ago. Our pedagogy and repertoire started then. Do you realize what you're trying to do? And the seriousness of mastering something that has this kind of human and artistic history? It seems like you're annoyed and frustrated that you can't master what is essentially a great art form, in two years.
What is required is humility. And love of the instrument, the music, even the tough old birds that have played and taught it all their lives, and never thought of quitting, no matter what the personal and professional frustrations are (and there are a great many). Humility. And love. It's not about any one individual. Being an artist is a calling, it's not something you "decide" you want to do, in order to aggrandize ego, make money, be admired, or any other reason other than the music is so excruciatingly gorgeous you can't not do it. And by doing it, you're contributing to humanity, you're a part of something (something old). It's not about you.
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March 5, 1915
How to manage a private lesson studio
Author: C.M. Sunday
I can only tell you what I do, though I'm not currently teaching in university, but private studio. And the majority of my students are children, though I do have a few college bound, advanced students and I also teach adults.
My process is something like:
This is some of it, though by no means all. Volumes can and have been written about this.
- Every student is required to have a three-ring notebook with filler paper: every lesson, I put a page in the front, and list the pieces they're to have prepared by the next lesson. [Frequently students will try to get by with bringing a spiral notebook or some other kind of notebook which won't work on the music stand, or they put a lot of non-lesson stuff in their notebook. I don't let them do any of that.];
- I do a lot of explanatory diagrams, notes, lists, etc., in the notebooks;
- I email them a page of large spaced manuscript paper and ask they put 10 copies in their notebooks: this is used to demonstrate theory and other issues;
- I have a collection of handouts that are used as the issues arise in lessons. These are available online, I also have them bring me a flash drive and I put everything on there, and I email the handouts, as appropriate [See: Handouts (both web pages and pdf files)];
- My students all have a clear idea of theoretical concepts, know what key the work is in, know about dynamics, articulations, form, style, composers: I have a laundry list of subject areas they cover, and I keep repeating it until they know it from memory. I tell students that it is difficult, that a lot of the ideas are the beginning of college work, that they are not to stress over it, and that I will repeat it over and over until they're like, "Ms. Sunday, stop: I've got it already.";
- I divide the study materials into (1) Scales/arpeggios (and shifting and double stops when that becomes appropriate); (2) études; and (3) pieces. Students are required to prepare this material in increments, every week, and if they don't, they hear about it;
- I teach violin, viola and piano, so in each case, students are made aware of what the standard required études are, where they are in the process, and where they will be expected to be, in the future;
- Most of my students are working in about five books or handouts, each week. They are told that they don't have to do every book, every practice session, but can divide the books up during the week. However, they must do scales/arpeggios every practice session, as a warm up, using different bowings and tempi;
- I am extremely picky about intonation (never let a student play a single note out of tune without fixing it), articulations, and phrasing.
- Students are always required to sight read their new material, and I also have books which I use for sight reading. Sight reading is not a skill that can really be taught, but has to be done, to learn it. So we sight read, a lot. There is a process that facilitates this: clef sign(s) (piano), key, time signature, playing like you were playing chess, with eyes ahead of the notes being played;
- Students are required to practice (depending on their age and level of maturity) 10-20 minutes a day, and more than one 10-20 minute session;
- Sensitivity to the student's (and parent's!) learning style and psychological makeup is the key to good teaching; I have learned so much, over the years, made lots of mistakes, and continue learning every week, improving my own teaching skills, and learning more about the whole subject area of music and psychology. This sensitivity, of going to where the student is at, rather than imposing your own hard-and-fast methods, is key to both Suzuki and Montessori principles.
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Dec. 27, 2014
Interview: Lionel Frederick Menuhin Rolfe
Authors: Lionel Menuhin Rolfe and C.M. Sunday
QUESTIONS TO LIONEL:
- I think of you as a "beat generation" novelist, but I'm not sure that's accurate. You continue to produce work up to the present, so it's not limited to that era, and you're also a journalist, not just a novelist. So how do you characterize yourself, or your work?
No, I don’t think of myself as a beat writer. Most of them were into Buddhism of various kinds, and few of them were very political. Beats were part of a protest movement, but they let their existentialism carry them away. Sartre managed to be very existential and also a communist—but it takes a Frenchman to make that kind of odd synthesis. Kerouac was very religious—Catholic. What makes "On the Road" so beautiful was the transcendental quality of his writing. While I admire his work—how can you not—I’m more excited by the Mark Twains and Kurt Voneguts of this world who have a certain political pithiness that is incredible. I began writing for newspapers in the early ‘60s, if not a bit before, so chronologically challenged to claim the title of beat generation writer. I was most attracted to the so-called "New Journalism" of the ‘60s which of course was not new. It was just what Mark Twain was doing, dressed up in newer garb. Twain and London, for that matter. But I do consider myself part of the California Bohemian movement, which I think is a major river of America’s literary effluence. That includes most of the great California writers from Twain to London to Steinbeck to Henry Miller and many more. Then you have the meshing after World War II with the apocalyptical—so literary production in Los Angeles turned less bohemian optimism and more deep-seated angst, typified by writers like Malcolm Lowry, Thomas Mann and Nathanel West.
- Everyone knows that it frequently is the case that great works of literature (and other arts) are not really appreciated until long after the artist is deceased. What is your take on the commercial piece of the writing business?
I do wonder about that. I don’t know what camp I belong in. I’ve been a newspaperman long enough to know that news writing has to paint a convincing narrative, and if that is commercial, so be it. The beauty of Mark Twain’s writing is that he could take a complex truth and render it clear in simple words, but not stupid, simple ideas. He exalted everything appropriate to exalt. About great writing or music being discovered later, I don’t know. When Beethoven died, 40,000 people came to his funeral. That probably was as many people as lived in the town back then. Jack London and Mark Twain were bigger than rock stars are today, with the exception of John Lennon perhaps.
- How would you characterize the changes in journalism—and professional writing in general—since the advent of the digital age?
I don’t know the big changes came just with the digital age. That incredibly multi-level characterization of things that a Twain is capable of, it works in any age, I suspect. That kind of honing of language a Hemingway did with massive rewrites, and Twain did just off the top of his head, still communicates best. Short, punchy writing has always had its advantages. What Twain—and I’ve said Beethoven too, who I think is the same artist as Twain—is resolve his paragraphs the way Beethoven resolves a seemingly unresolvable musical phrase. That’s where the genius of both lies.
- You are the nephew of a world figure in the arts, Yehudi Menuhin. How has that affected your life? I would think it would be difficult in that you may not always be sure if someone wants to be friends, or is just being snobbish or curious about you. And then the comparisons that one family member is a genius, so they all might be?
It has molded me completely, maybe not always for the best. And yes, I am concerned when people appear to like me just because of my relation to Yehudi. Yes, that happens a lot. It has always affected me. Not many years before he died, I ate lunch with Yehudi in Pasadena before a concert at the Ambassador Auditorium. He was in a somber mood about the world, and had lost his optimism. But he also told me I was the most likely of my eight cousins "to carry on the tradition." I took what he said to heart and have tried to carry on. Yes, it’s been a curse and a blessing. These days it’s less an issue. Frankly, not many Americans even remember his name. He’s dead and gone. That’s a change too.
[Ed. note: Lionel doesn't interact in all the string forums, where the name and work of Menuhin is very much alive, very much remembered and very much honored to this day.]
- I always admired your mother, Yaltah Menuhin, who was an eminent pianist. What was that like, growing up with a dedicated artist like that?
Oh boy, that’s the big question and I still don’t know the answer to it. But I’m pretty sure I’m grateful she was my mother. I like to think that I was almost like her older brother, taking care of her. Although she had given hundreds of concerts, she always got nervous just before her appearances. I hand held her a lot. But I also had lots of resentments. When I told her I was going to become a writer instead of a musician, she clearly indicated she had no great affection for writing. Although she read a lot—the Russian writers, Proust and, of course, Willa Cather—her "aunt willa." She hated Thomas Mann, but that was because of personal things. When I reminded her Willa was a writer, she stopped riding me about my choice. Sorry, Connie, but I’m clearly skirting the subject. I suspect the truth is there was some sort of Greek drama going on between us. If I can figure it out it would undoubtedly be my best book.
- I believe your latest book is about Willa Cather; I've always loved her works and wonder if you discovered anything really new and surprising about her, in the course of putting the book together? I believe she was the Menuhin's nanny at one point?
Well, she wasn’t a nanny. She was hired to be the Shakespeare tutor for Yaltah, Hephzibah and Yehudi. When I say "hired," I don’t think there was a salary involved. Willa was fascinated by the "biblical Menuhins" because she had always been fascinated by musical prodigies. She didn’t believe they existed. She wrote a short story when she was young called "Paul’s Case" about a child violin prodigy who played primarily in circuses, and had awful "theatre parents" She met the Menuhins in Paris in 1931, and that was the beginning of a long relationship. My mom gave me letters Willa had written her and from them I learned that a good part of Willa’s "Lucy Gayeheart" was based on my mom.
- Both yoga and vegetarianism seem to be themes in the Menuhin family; how do you feel about those things?
I’ll answer that indirectly. Indra Devi, the famed Yoga, took me to lunch once—just me and her, to show me how not to eat meat. I insisted I wanted only a hamburger and she purchased one for me. Years later, a nice woman, Michelle Goldberg, interviewed me for a book she’s doing for Knopf on Indra. Yeah, I said. I had known her. But I knew her in that way a child knows an adult. I realized I had no particular insight into her—I wish I could say otherwise. I know that Indra’s story was she had had a heart attack, and that convinced her to change her lifestyle and she discovered Yoga and the rest is history. I tell you this in jest—I cannot conceive of myself never again eating fine salmon or lamb on occasion. But I am fairly convinced that I should eat a lot less flesh and a lot more plants. But I also remember, as a small kid, Yehudi rented a mansion in the Florida Everglades and called the family together. I met my cousins, I met other family members, and Yehudi had dug up a doctor named Melvin Page, who wrote polemics against sugar. Yehudi was among those convinced processed refined sugar is almost pure poison. Of course being a vegetarian wouldn’t have saved him from sugar.
- I find myself in agreement with you, as a rule, in reading the journalistic essays online about political subjects. How would you characterize yourself politically?
A left wing Democrat, I suppose. I once was more left than that. I was kind of a communist. But I had trouble with the concept of the "dictatorship of the proletariat." I knew that meant some bureaucrat claiming to speak for the people. I felt close to the communists because they were the only Europeans who really fought fascism and anti-Semitism. I think my position changed to being a social-democrat over the years. I like the idea of democracy and the idea of progressive change. I’m not that enamored of capitalism. It produces wealth for a few and poverty and war for most every one else.
- So many young people who initially express an interest in writing, give up the idea at some point, but you never did. What sort of advice would you give to people who are interested in writing professionally?
Get your head examined. I kept up at writing because there just seemed to be nothing else that made sense. I couldn’t build anything real. I never could or would sell insurance. I’d probably give all my clients Ambrose Bierce’s wonderful little screed about insurance. He was a California bohemian of the last century—a brilliant writer who was rather politically right. But he didn’t like insurance companies. When I was a kid, I did work in a shop repairing bicycles. I was always proud of that. I couldn’t be a landlord. I wouldn’t know how to evict little old ladies in the middle of a winter night. In terms of advice—I’m not too sold on the idea of writing teachers, but I would say the best thing is—read, then write. write, then read.
- I would love to know who your favorite authors are, what you read for pleasure, and which writers have had the most influence on you?
Writers who had the biggest impact? Mark Twain, Jack London, Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck. Oh, and the most recent writer who affected me—John Bukowski, who I had the pleasure of drinking with one strange night. My problem is I’m writing too much to do much reading these days. When I fully retire—if I ever do from the daily grind of journalism—I do want to go off in a somewhat different direction than in the past. I’d like to read some Pynchon, try James Joyce again...the sound of his words were so beautiful. Also, Cather deeply influenced me. My mom talked so much about her I read a lot. I loved Death Comes for the Archbishop and My Antonia.
- I would love to know your views on antisemitism in the Middle East, and current affairs, in general. I know it's a large subject.
Yes, big topic. I’ve written about it quite a lot. I even edited the old Bnai Brith Messenger, the nearly 100-year-old pioneer newspaper that served the Jewish community in Los Angeles. I don’t like Netanyahu. I think he pushed for the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin because he wanted to stop a rapprochement with the Arabs that Rabin and Arafat had signed on to. Netanyahu’s still doing his best to sabotage a peace process. I think he’s a monster, as was Ariel Sharon. A far cry from Abba Eban, who represented the best of Israel.
- More specifically, I would love to know your views on our current government and the directions it's going.
I think Obama is going to go down as one of this country’s greatest presidents. I think the opposition to him comes primarily from one thing—the color of his skin. He’s too much a capitalist for me, too sympathetic to Wall Street, but I wouldn’t expect anything more in an American president. Still, his intelligence is refreshing, his literacy is lovely. I do worry about the venality of the opposition to him—in the old days you’d call what a lot of them are saying and doing treason. I hope they don’t do too much damage. I’m talking about the Tea Partiers, the great and proud Know-Nothings.
- Question from a violist friend: How did Yehudi pronounce his last name? Yiddish speakers say it M'nukh'n, with the accent on the middle syllable (nukh) and a strong clearing of the throat on the kh. In English, I've heard both MeNOOin, but more often MENyooin. The first seems closer to Yiddish, and I wonder if he said it that way. (Menucha just means peace in Hebrew. Yehudi means Jew...his parents must have been pretty insistent that he not forget he's Jewish!!)
Yeah, that’s a famous story, how his mother turned down a landlord who tried to sell her property to the prospective tenants by proudly declaring she didn’t rent to Jews. So the young Marutha decided then and there to name her son Yehudi, meaning the Jew.
I’d say Menuhin. In any event, yeah, in the original Hebrew the emphasis would be on M--NOOCH-IN. But at Ellis Island it was anglicized to MENyooin. I’m not sure one is right and one is wrong, although I mostly say MENyooin.
Works by Lionel Frederick Menuhin Rolfe
• Bread and Hyacinths: The Rise and Fall of Utopian Los Angeles
• Death and Redemption in London & L.A.
• Disputing Rasputin, Despair & Other Matters That Try My Soul
• Fat Man on the Left: Four Decades in the Underground
• Homeopathic Cell Salt Remedies: Healing with Nature's Twelve Mineral Compounds
• Last Train North
• Literary L.A.
• The Menuhins: A Family Odyssey: Kindle ed.; Paperback and Hardback
• The Misadventures Of Ari Mendelsohn: A Mostly True Memoir Of California Journalism
• Presidents & Near Presidents I Have Known
• Reflections from Elsewhere
• The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin and Willa Cather
• Violin Virtuosos: From Paganini to the 21st Century, Henry Roth, ed. Lionel Rolfe
• Stories by Lionel Rolfe (Pasadena Weekly):
09/01/2005 Confessions of a xanex Commie: On a journey through some of America’s darkest days, a political scribe finds times sure have changed — for the worse
12/22/2005 A man of his times: Remembering Sen. Eugene McCarthy, the man who campaigned against war
01/19/2006 Casualty of 'freedom': The troubling story of Dodger Stadium's construction remains part of Frank Wilkinson's heroic legacy
08/31/2006 Modern monstrosities: Since the time of Hitler, the legacy of our freeways has been one of brutality and death
02/07/2008 One on one: Warner set to take on Dreier now that Hilsman has quit 26th Congressional District race
04/24/2008 Sounds of Life: Exploring the universe through the music of Maestro Victor Vener
06/18/2009 Of kings, priests and tyrants: On health care, Obama needs to know his worth is reflected by his enemies
11/19/2009 Troubled Times: Echoes of America’s violent history reverberate in the age of Obama
12/17/2010 Realms of despair: Looking to the heavens for hope in a world gone mad
02/10/2011 The real Rasputin: The metaphysics behind the music of Russian composer Vladimir Rodzianko
03/03/2011 Portraits by an icon: Famed photographer Phil Stern preserves his historic legacy at a new gallery
03/31/2011 Random revolutions: What the future holds for the Middle East — much like the ending of Hoyt Hilsman’s novel ‘Nineteen Angels’ — is far from certain
06/02/2011 A man for his times: Adventurer, writer and naturalist Charles Lummis and the bohemian LA he defined
06/23/2011 The Mount Lowe reunion: Not-so-fond childhood memories of Altadena’s long-closed military academy
08/25/2011 Etched in memory and granite: Former ‘Voice of the South’ Boyd Lewis recalls a lesser known side to King and the struggle for civil rights
12/22/2011 The world's greatest music: The inescapable fact is ‘classical’ music must have its roots among the ‘folks’
03/01/2012 Body and soul: Author Gerald Nicosia lays out the truth about On The Road
05/24/2012 Bohemian Nexus: Siqueiros and Stein reunite at Take My Picture Gallery
08/02/2012 An old quandary: The God particle sheds no new light on the mysteries of romantic love
08/24/2012 Parallel universes: A family odyssey through the Land Down Under
11/15/2012 Remembering LA's 'Artful Dodger': A friend of former LA Councilman Art Snyder reminisces about the ex-Marine-turned-lawyer who loved a good fight and cared for constituents
01/10/2013 'West Meets East': The mystical musical union of sitar master Ravi Shankar and violinist Yehudi Menuhin
02/28/2013 Pat Derby 1943-2013: Founder of Ark 2000 never forgot the pachyderms she loved best
04/26/2013 A world of hurt: When one man weeps, the world weeps with him
07/02/2013 For Freedom's Sake: The Thomas Paine Society’s Alaine Lowell keeps the torch of liberty lit in Pasadena
08/21/2013 Celebrating George Duke: Paying tribute to a man who was a great musician and a good guy 11/26/2013 Living the Blues: Life has changed but the songs remain the same for American jazz great Sonji Kimmons
01/09/2014 Stealing Journalism's Soul: A veteran newsman laments the end of an era and the coming of a new age
03/25/2014 Talking union: With nowhere to turn, workers seek the only protection available
06/04/2014 'Change has its enemies': An old interview with a right-wing extremist connected with the JFK assassination raises new questions about the murder of the president’s brother, Robert
08/07/2014 Pieces of Life: Actress Susan Anspach completes a long-broken circle in the life of an LA writer
09/25/2014 Old Wounds: A proud Jew laments the crisis in Gaza
11/26/2014 The Ride Home: Gerald Nicosia’s ‘Night Train to Shanghai’ is a metaphoric journey into the heart of China
• Blog: Huffington Post
• Chicago Tribute: The Fiddler
• Jewish Woman's Archive: Hephzibah Menuhin
• L.A. Times: A Wondrous Violinist Who Was a True Citizen of the World
• USC Library: Collection of Lionel Rolfe papers
Contact: Lionel Menuhin Rolfe
Please post comments to Attn: Editor
Dec. 24, 2014
Developing Your Private Music Studio
Author: C.M. Sunday
How best to develop your private studio is an important question, especially for those of us whose income is primarily from teaching and performing.
Ideally, you want to have such a good reputation as a private instructor that all your referrals come in by word of mouth. But you may, initially, need to hang flyers in the local shops. I like designing a flyer with my phone number listed numerous times at the bottom, so that prospective students can take a strip of paper with the phone number.
Some of the places where you could place ads (bring your own box of pins) might include:
- grocery stores (United allows it; Walmart does not)
- any school (higher education; often need to get permission)
- some coffee houses
- some libraries
- churches (get permission)
- some copy places have bulletin boards
- all the local music stores (I mail two flyers and a small stack of business cards every six months or so)
- Montessori schools, religious schools (sometimes they have newsletters, also)
- some privately owned restaurants will let you tape a flyer to their door glass
- some other private businesses will sometimes allow you to tape a flyer to their glass door
- some bookstores may allow you to post your flyer (ask first)
- some teachers who teach instruments other than the one you teach will not mind having a few of your business cards; I send these periodically in a nice card
Violin, Viola and Piano Lessons
For Studio Policy & fees, please see:
- Develop a contract (set boundaries); see mine at
- Design a webpage on your own, or use a service such as
Music Teacher's Helper
- Advertise regularly in a local paper.
- Get business cards and include email address, URL, and phone.
- Play as much locally as you can.
- Contact music schools, music stores, luthier shops, any and
everyone associated with string music in your area
- Develop a quartet for weddings and social functions
- Contact the newspapers to see if they will do an article on you
- Announce your studio in university publications
- Design a flyer and post at schools, and any public bulletin
boards. Montessori Schools are good.
- Contact local public music teachers and see if you can give
demonstrations, guest conduct, and get referrals
- Join the local Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) and the local; musicians' union (AFM); American String Teachers Association (ASTA); and the Suzuki Association if you're a Suzuki teacher. Attend all functions. Follow up all calls.
See Lesson Policy Page to review Policies in my Studio, which include:
§1. Cancellations: Request 24 hour notice.
§2. Dismissals: The student's feelings are key.
§3. Illness: Children who are ill should stay home.
§4. Instruments: 100% trade in policy for student instruments.
§5. Fees: About middle ground for this area.
§6. Lesson Time: Not early, not late.
§7. Makeups: Only with two week advance notice.
§8. Parents: Observations.
§9. Parking: On the street but not in anyone's driveway.
§10. Recitals: Two per year, adult students not required.
§11. Retainers: Monthly fee remains stable.
§12. Time-out: Vacation policy.
Students are required to have a three-ring, loose-leaf notebook with filler paper, in order to keep track of their assignments and handouts. I take a blank sheet of paper and put it in *front* of the student's notebook, to write out the current assignment each week. Sometimes I can get two or three weeks on one page, but more frequently I cannot because I write on the page, reminders of note values, articulations, etc. I also put those little post-it bookmark strips on the pages in their books they're working on, I date every assignment (and of course date the notebook entries), and I use lots of stickers. I find that even my adult students want stickers "if that's part of the experience," they say. A lot of them are taking lessons which they had wanted to take, as children, but couldn't. I buy stickers specifically for boys, girls, men and women. (I use stickers for decoration, not rewards for practicing, so they can "have something nice to look at" while they're practicing.)
If the student is playing something in the notebook, then the notebook is on the stand. Otherwise, it is open, next to me, so I can refer and notate. It is important to put the assignment in the front of the notebook, so student doesn't have to shuffle through paper to locate current assignment.
Don't let students try to let you use a spiral notebook (you can't put handouts in it - I have a three-hole punch nearby), a notebook which is too small, or one which is more like a folder and won't sit on the stand. They try all of that. Also, don't let them put anything else in the notebook: only music lesson stuff.
I email the student a one page document of large type manuscript paper. And I ask that they make 10 copies for their notebook. That way, I can use it to demonstrate where the notes are located, scale patterns, chord structure, etc. See: Large size Manuscript paper
I also use the scale printouts here:
Almost from the beginning I have students (both violin and piano) playing scales (with "Suzuki bowings"), learning the scale step numbers and half steps between 3-4 and 7-8, and the minors in their three forms.
Initial notebook entries/techniques:
- I draw the violin and bow and we study parts of instrument and bow
- finger numbers; if student is also studying piano with me, the distinction is made between piano finger numbers and violin finger numbers
- ask parents and student permission to place tapes on violin and bow: three finger tapes (for "frame") on fingerboard, and two tapes in centre of bow, to begin "Pepperoni Pizza"
- "left hand technique" (violin hand) and "right hand technique" (bow hand)
- how to hold violin (1-2-3): (1) violin is held at arm's length, scroll up, parallel to student's body; (2) position of violin is reversed, with scroll down; (3) violin is placed in correct position to left, on colrbone, with violin parallel or above to floor, and elbow under violin. Next step is to practice holding violin without hands, and then shaking hands under violin
- how to hold the bow (1-2-3): (1) thumb is placed, under frog for little ones, crooked near grip for adults and older children (thumb and 2nd finger make "doggie" circle); (2) first three fingers are dropped across stick, tilted slightly toward the tip, with space between 1st and 2nd finger (importance of 2nd joint of 1st finger for the purposes of controlling articulations is later examinedoften); (3) pinky finger is curved on inside of bow.
- "rocket ships": bow is held in correct position, and "launched" (with rocket noise) from floor towards ceiling
- "tick-tock": bow is held in correct position, slowly making windshield washer movement
- "the spider": bow is held from the back, careful not to touch the hair, and hand crawls up bowup is easy, going down is much harder
- "the stretch": (for adult or older students), bow is held in correct position, then fingers are extended flat, and then bow is drawn into the palm
- "squeelies": start with bow at tip and draw slowly to frog, while running finger up and down strings (great for Halloween)is preparation for shifting and vibrato exercises
- "ticks": hold bow in correct position, and make tiny notes at frog and at tipthis is to develop strength in hands and focus on straight bow
- son filé: start at one end of bow and slowly draw bow to opposite end, counting, with bow parallel to the bridge
- "choo-choo train": very small bows in the middle, spaced notes, getting faster and fasteris prelude to "Wish I Had a Watermelon" variation, i.e., two sets of 16th notes, each starting down bow
- "hovering" fingers: develop notion of hovering, e.g. the bow is hovering over the pencil
- "Moon Man Silent Landing": bow is brought down, between the two centre tapes on the bow, on sounding point ("point of contact"); "Pepperoni Pizza" is developed from there, starting on the E string.
- "pump handle": the seven levels of the right arm, four string levels and three combination levels
Galamian and his students refer to the "pump handle," consisting of the seven levels of the right arm. Each of the four strings has a level and there are three combination levels, double stops with G/D, D/A and A/E.
If the configuration of the right hand remains consistent (the shape and the notion of the bow hanging from the hand like fruit), then it is the whole arm that moves up and down to remain in the plane of the string(s).
Developing the shape of the right hand is so important! ISSAc Stern referred to it as a "series of springs." It has to be rounded and sensitive. It's very elegant and very difficult to develop at first.
Most students—whether they're three years old or adults with doctorates—make the exact same errors I have found: pancake hand in the left hand (wrist flat and touching the body of the violin), elbow not directly under the violin, and right hand fingers too far apart with a stiff pinky. All of the right hand needs to be rounded, with
- the second joint of the index finger the focus for controlling articulations,
- a finger's space between left index and middle fingers,
- middle finger across from thumb,
- thumb bent against the stick NOT between hair and stick (rounded),
- 4th finger on or above the eye of the frog
- pinky curved with the tip on the top or slightly inside the stick
This is, indeed, a very serious issue and I have designed a separate page to archive these types of emails. I have a Teachers Directory and an online Studio Policy and I daily receive one or two of these attempts to defraud. I am archiving these messages, with their IP addresses at: Fraud against Music Teachers. If you want to, send me any such messages, with the IP addresses, and I will post them. Instructions for getting the sender's IP address are on that page. The IP address tells the whole story, because usually the IP address is completely different than the stated or implied information in the email. Music Teachers need to stick together and fight these people.
I believe that music study is productive for anyone, at any age. The benefits may be said to include
(a) Sense of accomplishment, self-esteem;
(b) informs one's knowledge of human history and aesthetics;
(c) teaches self-discipline and awareness;
(d) is enjoyable and pleasurable;
(e) gives meaning and purpose to life;
(f) inspires self-knowledge and psychological insight;
(g) teaches patience and persistence;
(h) promotes physical coordination;
(i) develops attention to fine detail;
(j) teaches humility;
(k) provides a release of emotions;
(l) allows one to share concepts with some of the best minds in human history; and in chamber music performance
(m) teaches one to work with and respect others.
For children, in particular, it is thought that music study supports high academic performance and positive socialization. Individuals responsible for decision making on college entrance applications look at private music study and orchestral experience, as very positive factors. For adults, it is an aide to memory and physiological coordination and well being.
It has been amusingly pointed out by a denizen of the Early Music forum (rec.music.early) that the same advantages may be had by baking bread. I think that is accurate; anything done well will produce similar results.
I have found that I follow pretty much the "Unit Objectives" from the Lesson Plans in my Math/Music Curriculum unit:
[See orig.: UNIT OBJECTIVES.]
- Drawings of how a piece of music makes the student feel.
- Drawings of staves, notes & rests, dynamic markings, clefs; creating a collage of music symbols.
- Numbers as they relate to music (pitch, rhythm, conducting).
- Acoustic properties of sound. Meaning and importance of A=440.
- Use of electronic instruments (metronome, pitch devices).
- Simple 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4 conducting patterns (down-beat & up-beat).
- Recognition of instruments, sight and sound.
- Recognition of major and minor chords.
- Recognition of major and minor scales.
- Recognition of V-I and IV-I cadences.
- Recognition of steps and half-steps.
- Vocabulary of dynamics: Italian, French, German, English (say aloud in class).
- Vocabulary of keys, scales and intervals.
- Vocabulary: pitch, timbre, dynamics, duration, rhythm.
- Learning of parts of the scale via solfeggio, numbers and letters.
- Improvisation using all black keys (pentatonic scale) and percussive instruments.
- Passing around of musical artifacts: things from the violin case.
- Introduction of personalities: Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Cage.
- Student conducting.
- Student repetition of rhythmic patterns.
- Student repetition of pitches.
- Student singing of one-measure pitch-rhythm patterns.
- Concert decorum; coaching of how students should behave during demonstration
visits by guest musicians.
A timeline for determining when these subjects are understood, depends upon whether the student has begun lessons:
(a) early, as in the Suzuki method, or;
(b) more traditionally, at seven, eight or even nine years of age, or;
(c) begins as an adult, which is also very common nowadays.
As a general rule, it takes several years to integrate all of these concepts within the framework of learning an instrument. I would expect students who have had three or four years of private and group lessons to have grasped this material.
With a new student with prior training—either in public or private school, and with or without private lessons from a prior teacher—evaluations have to be made in order to determine where the student's training needs to begin. One way is a brief written or oral test. See: Music Pre/Post Test. It should be stressed that this is not a test anyone can "fail" but merely evaluative. If given orally, which is probably best during a private lesson venue, it will quickly become apparent if the student knows or does not know this material. Thus running through the entire test is not always necessary. Most students are not going to know this information initially.
Please post comments to Attn: Editor
Music for Young Violinists