The Centenary Suzuki School
In 1977, Mrs. Laura Crawford began the Centenary Suzuki School by recruiting students through kindergarten teacher friends, then knocking on the doors of unsuspecting prospective violin students and inviting them to take violin lessons. Armed with her “Fuller Brush Kit” of miniature violins, a record album of the Suzuki Book 1 music, and a picture/poster of her young University of Texas (Austin) students, she recruited ten students and eager parents to begin her violin program. The CSS was built on the model of the U.T. String Project started by Phyllis Young. Today the program continues to train future generations of classical music lovers with its current enrollment of around 140 students instructed by eight trained Suzuki teachers in violin, viola, and cello. Mrs. Crawford and the CSS faculty have educated over 1500 alumni who have become outstanding professionals in their fields, and often Suzuki parents to their own children. The Centenary Suzuki School, based at the Hurley School of Music on the campus of Centenary College of Louisiana, is the only college affiliated Suzuki program in the state of Louisiana.
Each CSS family commits to a weekly private lesson with their teacher, a group lesson on Tuesday afternoons at Centenary’s Hurley School of Music building, and daily listening and practice of at least 20 – 30 minutes. In agreement with the Suzuki philosophy (see below), a parent is expected to participate in each practice session and lesson. Tuesday group lessons include two classes: a repertoire class and a theory or orchestra class. Repertoire classes, assigned using Suzuki book level, are intended to advance and reinforce technique on the instrument, as well as encourage memory of learned pieces using games with peers. This is also where we do our public performance preparation. Theory classes teach our younger students the basics of reading music. Once the children have fluently learned theory basics, they are placed in a succession of orchestras: Elementary (least-experienced music readers), Intermediate, and Chamber Orchestra (high school and most advanced).
The Centenary Suzuki School performs every year at the Red River Revel Arts Festival in downtown Shreveport, as well as at a couple of area nursing homes around the holidays. CSS volunteers have also performed for runners for Holy Angels’ “Run with the Angels” and select other events. In addition, we have many recitals at the Anderson Auditorium in the Hurley School of Music on Centenary’s campus: orchestra concerts in December and April, Graduation recitals in October and March, a large end-of-year group gala concert in May, and series of solo recitals in late May.
CSS students are often chosen for principal chairs in the local magnet school orchestras, and the Caddo Magnet High School Orchestra consistently provides more than half of the string players chosen for the Louisiana All-State Orchestra. Over the past decade, more students from CSS have made the National High School Honors Orchestra than from any other area of the state. Through their musical and academic excellence, our former students have gained admittance to the following institutions among others: Baylor, Brown, Centenary College, Cincinnati Conservatory, Emory, Indiana University, Johns Hopkins, Mary Washington, Northwestern (Chicago), Notre Dame, Princeton, Rhodes, Rice, Stanford, SMU, TCU, Texas A & M, Tufts, Tulane, University of Houston, UNC-Chapel Hill, Vanderbilt, Yale, MIT, and various other Louisiana universities. Our graduates work as professional musicians, physicians, lawyers, computer professionals, Peace Corps volunteers, Fulbright scholars, accountants, dentists, and parents. Many who have gone into other professions continue playing their instrument and contribute their talents in community orchestras and churches. Others continue to cultivate a lifelong appreciation of music as concertgoers.
For more information and answers to specific questions, please contact us!
Dr. Suzuki and His Philosophy
Dr. Shinichi Suzuki (1898 – 1998) was a Japanese humanitarian and philosopher. When approached by the parent of a 3-year-old after World War II about teaching the child to play the violin, Suzuki was hesitant. However, he had a revelation soon after: young children could be taught music in the same way they learned their native language, which all hearing children learn fluently. He called this “Talent Education.” The other main tenet of Suzuki’s philosophy is that EVERY child can learn. This is not just a more positive way of stating the recently popular mantra “no child left behind,” but goes much further. The private lesson instructor, parent, and student all work together from the understanding that all of them are committed to progress and successful mastery – no matter how small the steps, or quickly the progression. Encouragement in the learning progress is key, and comparative (and competitive) attitudes are discouraged. Each child will learn in their own unique way and time table, and it is the parent’s and teacher’s job to support their work with positive feedback before any needed correction takes place. Celebrating small steps may be a big deal! This method is one of great love, designed to nurture the children in an atmosphere of love and the building of self-confidence.
Now more commonly referred to as the “Suzuki method,” Talent Education begins each student as young as possible. A child learns to speak by listening to and mimicking sounds their parents and others in the home make. Similarly, Suzuki students listen to the CDs of the pieces they will learn (multiple times) every day. As they begin to master the mechanics of playing their instrument, the child learns to imitate the sounds on the recording. This builds pitch memory, allows the student to play complex pieces as well as folk songs without needing to read music, and results in a beautiful, rich tone.
Each step to playing an instrument is approached with creative repetition and encouragement. The parent is an essential part of this learning process because they practice with the child every day – the teacher only sees them once or twice a week! Just as a child is encouraged to say a word over and over until it is mastered, so the student must repeat each activity or song until it is fluent. Once learned, each piece is reviewed constantly so that the student reinforces memory, technical skill, and musical expression. This is how Suzuki students are ready for a performance at any time. While learning a new skill, the teacher will give the parent and child games or challenges to complete at home every day focusing on that new skill. Parents often find a way to show their own creative genius too!
Although Suzuki students learn to play by ear, Dr. Suzuki recognized that music reading is also an important part of training. Just as we don’t expect our children to read books to us until they can speak fluently, we don’t expect students to be able to read music notes on a page while playing until they have mastered basic posture and technique. Don’t let that fool you, though. Every student learns the musical alphabet and the symbols on the music staff, as well as various rhythmic patterns, separately from their instrument from early stages. We call this music theory. As the child progresses toward music reading with their instrument, they learn more in-depth meaning of what they see on the page.
Dr. Suzuki and several others have written helpful literature explaining his philosophy and helping parents. Nurtured by Love (Dr. Suzuki), Ability Development from Age Zero (Dr. Suzuki), To Learn with Love (William & Constance Starr), and Teaching from the Balance Point (Ed Kreitman) can be purchased here.
For additional information, FAQs, and a video on Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy and method, please see the Suzuki Association of the Americas’ website here.
Goals of Suzuki Philosophy
- To strive for excellence in musical technique by following a carefully designed sequence of learning steps that has been successful in Japan, the Americas, and all over the world.
- To allow each child to develop his or her capabilities to their fullest extent.
- To foster an appreciation of music and a pride in the performance of music.
- To develop a sense of musicianship.
- To contribute to the overall development of accomplished men and women.
- To promote peace, unity, mutual respect, and love in our modern world through the common language of beautiful music.