This year I was finally able to attend my first summer institute AND be trained to teach the cello, so it's a big week of firsts for me. Boy is it exhausting! The schedule is jam packed, the mornings are much earlier than I'm used to, but I would 100% do it again. In fact I've already decided I'm going to two institutes every summer from now on. Maybe that's a lofty goal, we'll see what happens :)
Anyway, I would love to tell you about my week. Maybe this will be your introduction to Suzuki and inspire you to learn more, or maybe this will encourage you to attend an institute as well. I'm hoping that this will help me get some of my thoughts out of my head so I can have room to absorb more in the next few days (and maybe launch a somewhat regular blog).
I began my journey from St. Paul to Chicago and the weather couldn't have been more beautiful. After deciding against staying in a dorm on campus I found an airbnb for the first time. It is wonderful! The family is very nice, the house is clean, and I have plenty of space to come back to and relax after very packed days. A classmate of mine said that airbnb restores her faith in humanity.
We had a short orientation and then went straight into our first training class. Yes, I took notes, but I'll be honest: at this point I don't remember what happened on the first day except for introductions, explaining requirements, and how the schedule works. Pretty sure you aren't interested in reading about that.
My trainer is Barbara Wampner who did her training with Dr. Suzuki himself! As the week has gone on we've had the privilege of hearing many fascinating stories about her time in Japan. My biggest take away from the class at this point is the richness Suzuki community.
That evening the Lincoln Trio gave a concert. I'll admit that I haven't actually BEEN to a concert in quite some time (unless I was performing in it). It was fun to see them for the first time and to hear some music that I'm not familiar with.
So it begins. Mornings are reserved for observations. I did yoga teacher training a couple years before any formal Suzuki training and we were required to observe classes then too. I'll admit I didn't get the point. Without a set number of required hours I didn't observe much and therefore did not get the point by the time I received that certification. When I did violin training, I remember groaning a bit (on the inside of course) when I found out I had to observe 15 hours of lessons! But through those observations I finally got how invaluable it is to watch other teachers. Needless to say I was excited to begin observing cello lessons!
That afternoon was the first student recital. All I'm going to say is "wow." Hopefully someday you will have the opportunity to attend an institute to see one of these recitals. The children audition for the HONOR to perform. "Where words fail, music speaks."--Hans Christian Anderson
In class that afternoon we discussed what we saw in observations and began learning the process of setting up a "pre-twinkle" cellist.
The morning brought more observations followed by a wonderful recital after lunch. In the afternoon I'm always thankful that Barbara is so conscious of giving us little breaks every hour but they always catch me by surprise because it feels like the time is just flying by.
That evening Carol Tarr taught an extra class that I'm so glad I didn't miss. She called it the "Super Hero Twinkle Sandwich." We learned some extra techniques and songs to teach pre-twinklers, some insight to child development, as well as some anecdotes. She reminded me so much of my beloved high school violin teacher, Mary West, because of the joy for teaching and love of people that radiated from her.
Carol brought a bunch of toys for us and asked us to spread them around the room. The next hour was spent with us sharing ideas for teaching using these objects. What fun it was! Sometimes Carol would share what she used them for in her teaching too. This brainstorming session made me realize what an excellent resource other teachers are. The room was filled with sharing of creative teaching ideas.
As a non nine-to-fiver living the nine to five life this week, Wednesday hit me hard. It was tough on the kids too, but that was great for observations. These lessons are not the norm. Kids are at camp, away from school, constantly supervised by a parent, and typically on their best behavior. When I did violin teacher training I got to observe lessons in the children's "natural habit," if you will. Sometimes things didn't go well and watching how other teachers handle that is invaluable. The teachers here at the institute handled everything beautifully! Though everyone was feeling the effects of hump day, these were some of the most amazing lessons I saw.
All of the teachers powered straight through from the morning into an SAA meeting to discuss the upcoming convention, resources new teachers might not know about, and eat lunch at the same time. We ended right on time to run to the chapel for the afternoon recital but today I opted out. Instead I visited the music store on site (which I hadn't had the chance to do yet) and got so lost in all of the cello repertoire and chamber music available. I'm excited to dive in to my new books!
My brain felt more ready to go for the afternoon class (after copious amounts of coffee of course) after the break I took in lieu of the recital. After spending three days on pre-twinkle/twinkles we finally moved on to the rest of book one. I guess that kind of mirrors a young child's progress too.
After the faculty recital (which I also chose not to attend after a lot of inner debate) there was a Cello Choir Seminar led by Linc Smelser. Class beginning at 8:30 pm after beginning the day of learning twelve hours earlier sound intense? I guess it kind of is. But it was a sight reading party for cello choir and what could be more fun?! A few of us were there until midnight! I don't think I was alone in only calling it quits because the realist in me knew I had to go to bed. We probably could have kept playing until classes started up again Thursday morning!
Side note: before the seminar I met another teacher trainee who went to this institute as a kid. It was so cool to hear about her experiences growing up here then coming back later as an adult.
After last night's cello fun I admit I did not make it to early morning observations. I'm starting to recognize these children and it almost feels like I've developed a relationship with them, even though we've never spoken a word to each other. But I've watched them go through so much! There's a three year old who started playing cello this week at the insititute who has made so much progress in only four days. Young cellists are correcting their posture with the help of institute teachers and I'm willing to bet that the progress will knock the socks off their teachers back at home. One little girl started playing a new piece simply because she's been hearing it all week and it sounds just lovely.
After realizing how much coffee I've consumed already this week (at least three times what I normally would have) I tried to cut back on the caffeine today. That made the afternoon class super difficult....so during our first break I grabbed a cup of coffee and all was well :) We learned some really cool teaching tricks with a rubber band that I think will work with my violin students as well. We shall see....
Today was the final day of observations since the children go home tonight. I observed a class outside of pre-twinkle and book 1 today and learned a lot.
The afternoon concert put on by the advanced chamber music students was phenomenal! I heard a couple unfamiliar pieces that I'm excited to listen to again later.
We continued through to nearly the end of book 1 (yay!). We also watched the "Nurtured By Love" video which tells the story of Shinichi Suzuki and explains his teaching method. It was so touching, Suzuki was really a wonderful man. There are a couple interviews with his wife, Waltraud, as well and she was very funny.
Since this was the last day for the little ones there was a festival concert for each instrument in the evening. I found myself wondering "what are we going to do with all of the time we have left and no children to observe?"
As it turns out, Barbara had plenty of activities for us to do! We finished discussing the last two pieces in book 1, Then we played through everything and Barbara threw us for a couple loops when she had us play certain pieces a little differently. It was really cool to see some of her teaching tricks and exercises for group classes using these pieces.
After our lunch break we went back to the classroom for three more hours. In the middle we took a break to go get coffee somewhere off campus. It was really fun to just let loose and talk about our own studios, questions, and really get to know our fellow trainees. I'll admit the conversation digressed a bit (or a lot) from just teaching cello, but creating a community amongst ourselves is so important. The community within the teacher trainers is so strong here and I'm happy that my trainee class developed a good bond as well. Most of us plan to come back next summer and I can't wait to see them again!
One last day for this night owl to be in class at 8:30! Woohoo! (Though as I'm writing this on Monday, I confess I did wake up feeling fully rested this morning at 7:45 am. I might just have to keep this early morning momentum going.)
At the end of class we watched a few videos of Barbara's students at home in recital and in lessons. I had listened to her talk all week about being a Suzuki teacher and being conscious of the' feelings of students and parents. I had also observed her teach children at the institute and I saw magic happen. But I also wondered, Is this what it's like all the time? Yes, it very much is. Barbara is truly a master teacher and watching her fix problems in a way that made students feel good about their playing was unbelievable. We ran out of time and while I was excited to go home I certainly could have stayed to watch more.
I decided to not write about today in chronological order because the activity that took up most of our time today was perhaps the most helpful and inspiring. Though after this week it's really difficult to rank experiences on any kind of scale. All of the trainers in the class had to teach a group class. Half of the class were the students while the other half observed. It was nerve wracking for all of us. Teaching a room full of adult teachers is much more terrifying than teaching young children. Everyone did such a great job and I saw some really cool ideas that I'm definitely going to steal for my own teaching. I'll be lucky if I'm as good as Barbara is at remembering to credit each of you as the source for the activity, but I will do my best!
As eager as I was to get back home to my friends, my own bed, and of course my cat, I was sad to leave. I can't wait to see what the 2018 institute holds!
Thank you to my fellow trainees, Barbara Wampner, the cello teachers, the students and their incredible parents, and the staff at the Chicago Suzuki Institute. Without your hard work this week would not have been the same.