HEB ELEMENTARY SUZUKI STRINGS THE SUZUKI METHOD
The Suzuki method was developed in Japan in the 1940s by Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist and teacher, as a result of his sympathy for the children in post-war Japan. His goal was never solely to teach children how to play a musical instrument but to show how music can make such a tremendous contribution to the learning process as a whole. Suzuki believed all children are capable of learning; talent is not an accident of birth and the potential of all children can be highly developed if they are given the proper training and learning environment. In his travels, he noticed that while he, as an adult, might have trouble speaking the language of the countries he visited, native children had no trouble. He thought about the way that children learn to speak their native tongue and developed guidelines for teaching the violin using the same principles. Children participating in Suzuki Strings are immersed in the sounds of their instrument, listening to recordings daily. Their parent is always beside them as a coach and cheerleader, supporting and helping the child learn at home. Just as we don't chastise a child for mispronouncing his first word, the child is not criticized but allowed to learn at his or her own pace. This method of teaching has been used around the world to teach many musical instruments successfully. The official website of the Suzuki Association of the Americas contains more information about Dr. Suzuki and his philosophy.
HISTORY OF THE HEB ELEMENTARY SUZUKI STRINGS PROGRAM
In 2000, the HEB Board of Trustees asked Dr. Gene Buinger, Superintendent of Schools to investigate the possibility of implementing a strings program in the district. Due to budget constraints, the possibility of having a string program at eighteen elementary schools would have been beyond the district's financial capabilities. However, the superintendent had previous experience with Suzuki Strings from previous school districts. His recommendation to the board of trustees was that the program be started at selected elementary schools in the district. Parents would be allowed to transfer their children to those schools if they desired for their children to participate in the program. In 2001, four elementary schools were initially selected to have Suzuki Strings. Introducing the Suzuki method in the elementary schools affords students an opportunity to experience success with their instruments before entering a more traditional public school orchestra program in junior high and high school. The first year began with just over 180 students to an enrollment today of over 350 students in six of the district's nineteen elementary schools. Original teachers in the program were Naoki Matsui, Tonya Lei, Mary Margaret Haraden, Vincent Pugh, and Susan Pugh. The first 180 students began lessons during the 2001- 2002 school year. Since that time we have added new staff members Denae Chance, Rachel Holt, Patricia Purcell, Amy Tomlinson, and Ian Salmon, and the number of students has grown to an expected 378 district wide this year.
Individual lessons are given once a week during the child's PE/Fine Arts period. Each week the child will have approximately 45 minutes of lesson time that will be shared with another student. Each child will have instruction for approximately half of this time, and the other half is spent observing the partner's lesson. Parents and students are expected to stay for the duration of the period.
Group lessons will take place after school as assigned to each student.
Attendance is expected at all lessons, group lessons, concerts, and rehearsals except in case of illness. A new district Suzuki report card is being used this year, and all absences will appear on it and become a permanent part of the child's Suzuki record.
Each lesson, the Suzuki teacher will emphasize a specific task or goal to work on during the week. In order to be successful, it is very important to practice every single day. Several short sessions with the parental guidance are more beneficial than a long "catch up" session after a week of no practice. Think of it like brushing teeth- would one have better results with a few minutes twice a day, or an hour every Thursday? A good beginner's goal would be to spend at least as many minutes each day as actual instructional time received at each lesson. Practice time increases with advancement.
As the students progress on their instruments, they have the opportunity to share their music with others through performances. Suzuki students perform in concerts organized by their schools and in concerts that include students from all of the six Suzuki schools in HEB. A very successful and motivating concert has been the Spring Festival, which occurs in April each year and includes a two-day clinic for the students followed by a performance at one of the HEB high schools.
SUZUKI BOOSTER CLUB
The booster club is an organization for parents of Suzuki students. Members sponsor activities that contribute to the growth and development of the Suzuki Program at the schools in HEB. They sponsor our t-shirt sales, Spring Festival event, and hold several meetings through the year for parent education.
Parents will be advised by their teacher to purchase or rent a good quality instrument when the child is ready. Parents who wish to buy an instrument other than those suggested by the teacher should get the teacher's approval before purchasing. Dr. Suzuki stressed the importance of a "beautiful tone," and a good instrument is the key to producing a pleasing sound.
SECONDARY ORCHESTRA PROGRAM
In the 2005-06 school year, the string program grew to the next level with the addition of a junior high orchestra program. Students who continue their string training at the junior high level will transfer to Central Junior High School where the district's new orchestra program has been established. The district's elementary Suzuki Program is certain to foster an excellent foundation for the district's secondary Orchestra Program.
WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP?
Beginning with the 2008-2009 school year, the orchestra program will take the next growth step. Bell High School will add String Orchestra to the list of performing organizations. Plans are already in place to outfit an orchestra rehearsal hall and purchase equipment and instruments for the group. After a period of growth as a string orchestra program, it is the intent to then add the appropriate wind and percussion players from the band program to create a full symphony orchestra. This is an exciting growth opportunity for HEB ISD and the Visual and Performing Arts Department. As the district grows to meet the needs of a global market, this is another fine example of how we are preparing our students to meet the needs and expectations of a global market.
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