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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Monday Morning Check In: Celebration

I apologize up front for not writing more in the past few weeks. I have several blog posts in the works, but I have had very limited time to spend to finish them. I have played symphony concerts, children’s concerts, and ballet performances, and the Artisan Quartet has been heavily involved in preparations for our next Beethoven string quartet installment this Memorial Day weekend. Somewhere in there I have been squeezing in a few short runs to kick off a new running season with an eye toward the fall (San Antonio Rock & Roll Half Marathon in November anyone?).

Despite my busy season, however, I want to share with you about the value of celebration, because this is a good time for commemorating what we have accomplished during the past school year, from last September through the current May. Many studios in the United States will offer end of the school year performances and recitals, where students will have an opportunity to exhibit the skills and abilities they have accomplished this year.

My studio – the Wildflower Suzuki Studio – gave its spring concert Sunday afternoon. We held it in the recital hall of the Texas State Music Department, so it was quite a momentous occasion for the students to perform in a real concert hall with an excellent piano and resonant acoustics. The atmosphere was formal enough to lend a sober reflective quality to the occasion; students dressed up in their finest clothes and parents set up video cameras and flashed smart phones about to capture photographic memories.

This year I added something new to the program. Rather than the usual program with the students and their pieces listed, I added a short biographical sketch of the students. When I first thought about the recital program, I reflected on how richly I knew my students and what some of their outside interests, hobbies, and accomplishments were, but that few people shared that knowledge with me. Along with the child’s age, grade, and school, I added a few more sentences to paint a more complete portrait about the child.

For example, one of my older students has studied Korean for several years and is about to begin studying Chinese; she wants to teach in Taiwan. She loves all things Asian. Another student (8 years old) is a champion rodeo rider (belt buckle winner). The studio boasts a volleyball champion, a ballerina, a singer, a whistler (yes, she can whistle!), a figure skater, a Karate student, and students who play basketball, hockey, baseball, and who swim, jump on trampolines, and run cross country and hula hoop.

We have Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts, a fiddle champion, horse riders and owners, writers, animal lovers and trainers, and students who can play more than one instrument. We have students who participate in community orchestra, youth orchestras, string music camps, and Suzuki institutes, and students who have part time jobs. We have students who have practiced every day for 100 days, 200 days or one year, and one student who has not skipped a day of practice since she was five (she is now graduating from high school). The list goes on.

But my celebration list does not stop with the students. I want to celebrate the fact that my students’ parents have made this journey with my students and me. The parents have hung on when practice sessions got tough, when students (and parents?) were tired and cranky, and when life’s busy-ness interfered with practice schedules. The parents were willing to bring students to regular lessons and group classes and other community performances. Some families have more than one child and more than one activity to attend each week, and these parents had much to juggle in their weekly schedules. I wanted to celebrate and recognize the parents’ contributions to the students’ success as well.

Yearly recitals are excellent opportunities to bring everyone together in one place and take a celebratory look at the fruit that the past year’s lessons and classes and practice sessions have yielded. Students enjoy the opportunity to show what they have learned, parents enjoy patting themselves on the back for all the hard work done at home, and teachers can memorialize the year’s progress in the recital program.

Some of my fondest childhood memories centered around piano and violin recitals. I recall my parents taking my sister and me out to the ice cream parlor after a performance, which was always a big treat! One year my parents gave us portable transistor radios. Some of my readers may be too young to know what a transistor radio is (one of the early forerunners to an ipod or MP3 player but much larger and needing batteries). I loved my radio; it was my most treasured possession! I went to sleep every night with the music playing under my pillow. I loved recitals if it meant that we would have ice cream and get cool gifts like radios!

Recital celebrations serve another important purpose that will touch both the students and the parents. Recitals allow students and parents to watch other students. A young beginner has the opportunity to watch a graduating high school senior play something in book 11 (something outside and beyond the Suzuki book 10 level). A beginning student’s parent can see what is possible if the parent is willing to commit to a regular practice and listening schedule. Older students and their parents can serve as role models and mentors for younger and less advanced students and their inexperienced parents. Younger, less advanced students will serve as reminders of where all students begin in the process of ability development.

Perhaps my most favorite part about the recital celebration is when parents share all their photos from the event. I receive photo and video links on Facebook, in email, and via text messages for days afterwards. It is so fun to keep a photographic record of how children look at a particular age or stage of progress. I can quickly assess which children have grown and need a new size violin or a different shoulder rest or sponge.

So if you have not yet had your celebration, take some time this week to plan one.

I just remembered what my absolutely most favorite thing about a spring recital is. It is the reception afterwards, when my studio parents and students can visit and congratulate each other. And, someone always brings chocolate cupcakes. I love chocolate cupcakes!

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