Tonawanda News

April 21, 2013

Forty-five years of making music

Buffalo Suzuki Strings hosts master teachers for workshops, concert

By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — What goes on in the solid, E. B. Green-designed building at the Webster Street bridge may be one of the best-kept secrets in Western New York ... but Buffalo Suzuki Strings doesn’t want it to be.

“We don’t want to be the best-kept secret,” said Mary Cay Neal, the founder and director of Buffalo Suzuki Strings. “We don’t want that to be the case.

“We believe that all children can learn. All children can learn to play music beautifully. All children can learn to cooperate with each other and be team players ... that’s what we want them to know.”

In that spirit of spreading the word, on Friday, Saturday and April 27, the school will celebrate the start of its 45th anniversary year by welcoming seven Suzuki Method master teachers to conduct classes, perform a concert that’s open to the public and give a Suzuki educational lecture to teachers and parents.

In addition, Buffalo Suzuki Strings has invited more than 200 music educators from throughout Erie and Niagara counties, from high schools to universities, to attend the classes and lectures, Neal said.

“Because this is so unique, because of the people we’re bringing, we have tried to be inclusive,” she said. “Observing and learning is one of the sharing methods of the Suzuki Method. Everybody will be better able to teach if they are getting new and inspiring ideas. 

“We always feel like it’s lifelong learning. You can learn new ways. We’re trying to share that way, as well.”

The Suzuki Method is a philosophy and teaching style developed by Dr. Shinichi Suzuki in the mid-20th century.

“It is a Suzuki belief that every child can learn this with the support of their parents,” said David Levine, assistant music director and violin/viola teacher. “Every child can do this.”

Also key is the “Suzuki Triangle” of parents, teachers and children, Levine said. Parents attend lessons with their children, practice daily with them and listen to music with them.

Classses at the Buffalo Suzuki Strings Musical Arts Center include violin, viola, cello, piano, classical guitar, double bass and “Music for Infants and Toddlers.” It is one of the only schools in the country to offer such a variety, Neal said, and offers instruction from birth through age 18.

Instructors who will be coming to North Tonawanda for next weekend’s workshops include Doris and Bill Preucil, who, like Neal, studied directly with Suzuki, and who run Preucil School of Music in Iowa City.

The Preucils, who teach violin and viola respectively, will be joined by violin teacher Christie Felsing, also of the Preucil School; Kimberly Meier-Sims: director of Cleveland Institute of Music’s Suzuki program; David Madsen, from Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford, who will teach guitar; cello teacher Pam Devenport of the School for Strings in New York City; and Mary Craig Powell of Columbus, Ohio, the piano clinician for the weekend.

Neal said that they all have one thing in common: They are teacher trainers, the highest level one can achieve in the Suzuki philosophy.

“That’s what makes this workshop so unique,” she said. “These people are at the highest level of our organization.”

Classes will not only be for the students, but for their instructors at Buffalo Suzuki Strings.

“Bill Preucil is the man playing viola on the recordings for our viola students — and he will be here next week,” Levine said. “It’s extraordinary.

“We’re also learning. If we, as teachers, don’t keep learning, we stagnate. So it’s important for us to have this experience.”

Since Suzuki died in 1998, he said, this is an opportunity for those who never were able to study with him personally, he said. “Those stories need to be told.”

A concert, open to the public, will take place from 10 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Buffalo Suzuki Strings Musical Arts Center. There will also be an an open house from 9 to 11 a.m. that day, during which parents of current students will serve as hosts to take prospective students and parents around to classes, while older students show off an “instrument zoo” where children can try out the instruments.

Sarah Mitchell, a violin and “Music for Infants and Toddlers” teacher who came to Western New York from Tennessee seven years ago to teach at the center, said it’s an atmosphere like no other.

“This is another kind of family,” she said. “People may think of music lesson as just another extracurricular activity, one more for their kids to do, and that’s fine. But if they come here, they will realize quickly that we’re really a lot more than that.

“There are Suzuki programs in different places throughout the country — but this one’s special. As a teacher, it’s a really special place to be.”

IF YOU GO • WHAT: Buffalo Suzuki Strings open house and concert with Suzuki master teachers • WHEN: The open house will take place from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday. The concert will take place at 10 a.m. April 27. • WHERE: Buffalo Suzuki Strings Musical Arts Center, 4 Webster St., North Tonawanda. • FOR MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.buffalosuzukistrings.org or call 743-8728.