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Published: Sunday, 7/13/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

Music education starts early with parents as key partners

BY SALLY VALLONGO
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE
Lucy Morse, 8, takes flute lessons from Amy Heritage of the Toledo Symphony on June 19 at the Toledo Symphony Space. Lucy Morse, 8, takes flute lessons from Amy Heritage of the Toledo Symphony on June 19 at the Toledo Symphony Space.
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It is 6:35 p.m. on a June evening.

Lucy Morse, 8, stands on a patch of sunlight slanting through blinds in a comfortable music studio in the Toledo Symphony's Old West End headquarters.

Lucy blows carefully into a child-sized flute, playing a simple tune, from memory.

Music from Mom Holly Morse's Ipod delivers accompaniment. Amy Heritage, her teacher, tries to distract her using a tiny stuffed monkey.

The performance is nearly flawless. Lucy looks modestly pleased.

"Let's play it faster," suggests Heritage, playing the tune on her full-sized flute at the new tempo. Mom plies her own instrument and, Voila!, it's a trio.

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It's one charming moment in a building full of them as the Toledo Symphony School of Music moves into its summer term inside the Professional Building, 1838 Parkwood Blvd.

Shortened to TSSM, this relatively new component of the 70-year-old orchestra's operation centers on the teaching method developed by Japanese musician Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998).

Cheryl Trace, right,  of the Toledo Symphony teaches children how to play the violin. Cheryl Trace, right, of the Toledo Symphony teaches children how to play the violin.
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It's an approach to learning violin, viola, cello, piano, flute, and harp which starts with mimicry – the student gains just enough technical training to properly use his/her instrument, then follows the lead of the teacher playing a tune – over and over until it belongs to the student.

But, it also belongs to the parent. Parents are an essential element in this highly respected teaching method.

"We often talk about the Suzuki Triangle," explains the school director, Rachel Zeithamel, "an equilateral triangle with the teacher, student and parent each composing one side."

Parents attend lessons and pay attention, even take notes, for they will become what Zeithamel calls the "home teacher" between lessons.

For example, down the hall from Lucy, teacher Cheryl Trace is leading a septet of enthusiastic violinists ages 5-10 through a series of dance tunes they have memorized in private lessons, group sessions like this one, and during home practice.

As family members watch from the room's edges, the tiny fiddlers are encouraged to call out their favorite songs.

"Gavotte," calls out one girl in long dress and flipflops. Led by Trace, seven tiny bows, marked carefully with tape to remind students of proper position, deliver a solid rendition.

"Can we try it faster?" prods Trace. The players comply, looking confident and engaged.

Still, when new requests are taken, minuets, three of the players can't recall the fingerings.

Instead of simply allowing them to stand idly by, Trace tells them to hand over violins to family, but to hold on to their bows.

Thus, as four players pick out the melody, the three others bow along in correct time.

"What I like about Suzuki," says Heritage, assistant principal flutist in the TSO, and a relative newcomer to the Japanese method, "is the focus on the music, on the instrument, and on the teacher."

Students are encouraged to pay attention to all elements of music and to listen attentively, whether playing or not.

"All of the teachers have Dr. Suzuki's goal in mind," adds Zeithamel. "We want to develop the whole child. It is not about turning out virtuosi musicians, it is creating wonderful human beings."

Downstairs in Claire Cho's group piano class, two girls sharing a piano bench try to help each other play the correct chords as they work through a tune. These students are advanced enough to read music rather than simply repeat what their teacher plays.

"Studying music helps with so many other development issues: discipline, pride, perseverance, accomplishment, self worth," says Zeithamel. "There are numerous studies comparing test scores of students who study music with those who do not, and it is not surprising that students studying an instrument score consistently higher."


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