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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Weber's Country Dance in Violin Book 5 and the Talent to Become Great

Written by Paula E. Bird, , ©2014

When I was a young Suzuki teacher just embarking on my teacher training experience, I remembered my first exposure to von Weber's "Country Dance" in Suzuki Violin Volume 5. I looked at all those up bow staccatos with a great deal of alarm. How in the world was I supposed to teach students how to play that bowing, when I as the teacher was unable to do this skill?

Let me relate my personal experience as a budding violinist at university. When the subject came up about this flying staccato/spiccato bowing (in the Mendelssohn concerto, third movement, if I recall), my teacher tried to teach me how to do it, but I struggled. We wound up doing the bowing with separate spiccato instead. Most of all I remember that my teacher made the comment that it was a tricky bowing, and that not everyone could do it. "You either can or you can't," but it was not something that could be taught for some students. I assumed from that moment on that I was one of those students who could not learn the bowing.

As I write this, I am reminded of something that Dr. Suzuki wrote in the preface to his book, "Ability Development from Age Zero": "I was not born with enough talent to become great," (emphasis added). He went on to write:
"A long time ago, I noticed that this common way of thinking was a mistake. Since then I have spent some thirty years proving a method about which it can truly be said, 'Look, advanced ability can be nurtured in any child. With this method wonderful ability can be developed, but with some other methods, some children will become miserable human beings with little ability.' The result is that today I can say, 'Talent is not inborn.' "
Hmm, then if I believe what Dr. Suzuki says, and I wholeheartedly believe this philosophy, then I am mistaken when I say that I am one of those students who cannot learn how to do this bowing. How do I then teach my students how to do the bowing when I cannot play the bowing myself? I turned to a fellow Suzuki teacher, Neela Kinariwala, for her advice. She assured me that my students would have no trouble with the bowing by the time they reached the piece in the repertoire. How can this be? Neela explained that my students would have worked with this bowing throughout their Suzuki education, so that when the time came, the learning of this new ability would be easily done.

Neela had me trace through the Suzuki Violin Volumes in search of the places when my students learned the up bow staccato in its various forms. Here is the tracing that we did, highlighting those pieces with the heaviest concentration of this bowing:

  • Minuet "1" in Volume 1: the introduction of up-up bowing in measures 1 and 3.
  • Minuet "2" in Volume 1: additional up-up bowing throughout the song.
  • Minuet "3" in Volume 1: additional up-up bowing throughout the song.
  • Long, Long Ago in Volume 2: the up-up bowing is found throughout the entire variation.
  • Minuet in G in Volume 2: the trio increases the number of up bows to 3 and 4 in a row.
  • Becker's Gavotte in Volume 3: the piece increases the up bows to as many as 6 in a row.
  • Seitz concertos in Volume 4: practice tips include playing the lengthy slurs as up-up bow staccato bowing.
  • Bach Gavottes in Volume 5: additional practice at extended up-up bowing.

Along with these pieces above, there are many other pieces in the volumes that include the up-up bowing in one fashion or another and frequently reinforce the skill, such that the students become well acquainted with this style of bowing by the time the student reaches the point of learning "Country Dance."

I took my discussion with Neela home and practiced tracing the bowing throughout the Suzuki violin literature, with the result that I surprised myself when I first attempted to play Weber's Country Dance. I could do it! For the first time in my life, I could play a fast up bow staccato! Then I repeated the process of tracing the bowing throughout the literature with spiccato and collé, and the result came out the same: I could perform a fast up bow spiccato as well!

Now, this is not a slight of any kind against that teacher who thought I could not learn it. Not everyone is exposed to the Suzuki philosophy or has reflected on the deeper meaning of this philosophy and its impact on talent education. Many teachers believed the opposite, and many still do. My eyes and heart were opened by this process, and I reflect deeply and often on other areas of my life where I might be holding myself back from success because of a limited belief in my ability to develop the talent to to become great.


  1. Thanks for the reminder!! What an uplifting thing to read as we are struggling in many areas in our lives.

  2. I think Country Dance was where my teacher (Yasuki Nakamura in Sydney) first introduced us to the joys of 1 bow Perpetual Motion. The challenge being to play the whole piece in 1 up bow using teeny tiny staccato notes. I've never forgotten it and look forward to passing it on!

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