Three would-be Yo-Yo Mas are seated in a semi-circle around their teacher, cellist Anne Brown. With their instruments perched between their knees, the students are warming up at their weekly group Suzuki lesson at the Schoolhouse in South Burlington. It's an experience that's part social, part technical and entirely musical.
"Fluffy cats get dirty after every bath," Anne Brown reminds her students.
Brown isn't critiquing their pet-grooming skills, but providing an acronym mnemonic for the order of sharps before the group launches into an A major scale.
After climbing up and down the scale, Emma Rosenau, 11, complains of cold, stiff hands.
"Hit 'em against a wall," suggests Zani Lewis, 8, the youngest student in the group.
Lewis started on the cello when he was three, which isn't unusually young for a Suzuki student. And unlike Suzuki violinists, who start out learning on a practice instrument made from cardboard, Suzuki cellists like Lewis go straight to the real thing.
That's because the cello is easier for kids to hold. The baritone of the string family, it's similar in many ways to the violin and viola — they all have four strings and are bowed — but sits on the floor with a metal end pin.
The musician also sits, while playing the instrument, which comes in all sizes. The smallest cello, which Lewis started on, is a one-tenth-sized instrument; it looks more like a large violin than a cello.
The Suzuki method emphasizes learning music the way children acquire language: playing with friends, learning by ear, attending concerts. The movement's founder, Japanese violinist Shin'ichi Suzuki, believed that by creating the right environment, anyone — the younger, the better — can learn to play music well. Private lessons may be part of that.
The social, non-threatening environment of the group lesson gives budding musicians the chance to play in front of others. "It gives them confidence," says Brown, who grew up playing chamber music with her musical family and has been teaching the Suzuki method since 1995.
Lori Lewis, Zani's mother, credits the Suzuki method with a life lesson she feels her sons have grasped. Her 11-year-old son is still playing the violin. "They learned through hard work they can accomplish something." K
St. Johnsbury, VT
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