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Friday, November 24, 2017

The Global Community, part 1

There comes a journey . . .
I recently returned from a teaching conference in Remscheid, Germany. There were many things about the conference that inspired me — the picturesque setting of the Academie Kulturelle nestled in a small wooded area of the town, the cloistered atmosphere of the conference itself tucked away from the hustle and bustle of our regular lives, and the opportunities to meet and share and combine our different culture, backgrounds, and ideas.

For me the best part of the conference was the wonderful atmosphere we created about community and sharing and being open with each other. By attending, by coming, by overcoming obstacles of many kinds, we created something truly special together. We overcame travel and distance issues. Sometimes we overcame political or professional hurdles. We overcame philosophical or pedagogical differences. We overcame language barriers. Together we shared moments of connection. We shared photos and videos and stories of our students and our teaching lives. We asked questions and sought answers for our teaching puzzles. We embraced new ideas and connections, made new friends from places far away, and shared our joy of belonging to a vital and uplifting profession. Most of all, we reaffirmed our commitment to a philosophy of education and a community of personalities who share a deep love of children, a desire to contribute our time and knowledge to the world, and a shared vision of a better world through our work as teachers.

There were 3-4 days of many topics and presentations. Mimi Zweig ( presented an intensive course about establishing a healthy foundation of violin playing with scales, etudes, and repertoire. We examined closely how basic posture setup could be reinforced with the addition of supplementary repertoire and technical materials. We discussed shifting ideas and techniques for eliciting a beautiful tone and working with students in an ensemble setting. We observed individual student lessons and how these ideas would be drawn into a teaching situation.

The evening presentations were designed to promote discussion and thought. One evening we watched a film about students in Mimi Zweig’s youth music program at the University of Indiana in Bloomington, Indiana. The video documented the growth and aspirations of several of Mimi Zweig’s most advanced high school students and inspired many of us teachers to return to our rooms to practice ourselves or to retire to the local pub together as a group to share our questions and discussions further.

David Andruss
Another evening included a closer look at a new book of songs designed to make technique a fun and enjoyable experience for young violinists. These new pieces included delightful piano harmonies written by David Andruss to underscore insightful melodies and exercises developed by Kerstin Wartberg.

Other presentations included such diverse topics as how a music teacher might effectively use the Internet at a low cost (Wolfgang Fischer and Dr. Ingrid Schlenk), how to prevent shoulder and neck pain while playing the violin (Ursula Benz), Autism Spectrum Disorder (Dr. Ingrid Schlenk), teaching points for early Suzuki violin book 1, Suzuki building blocks, sound production and intonation as they relate to the Paul Rolland and Suzuki pedagogies (Dr. Claudio Forcada), nurturing parents into partnership with Suzuki teachers (Paula Bird and Sue Hunt), group class creativity and music pieces to foster technique in a group setting (Isabel Morey Suau), movement and rhythm (Gino Romero Ramirez), violin literature from Poland (Elżbieta Wegrzyn), and games to spark interest in review (Agathe Jerie). And all of these wonderful presentations were translated by the capable Verena Sophie Lauer.

Charles Krigbaum
On the third day of the conference, the third intensive course began and focused on the basics for very young beginners, especially posture and tone. Charles Krigbaum, Kerstin Wartberg, Kathryn Averdung, Veronika Kimiti, and Heidi Curatolo demonstrated teaching points for posture, tone production, and ensemble for young and early beginning students. Eva Belvelin (Sweden) introduced us to her materials for encouraging technique building in young violinists as well as to her materials designed to aid violin and bow posture. Another evening program included a discussion forum to examine questions and answers to many common teaching issues from the teachers who attended the conference.

Heidi Curatolo & Kerstin Wartburg
I attended the conference for the first time in 2016, and I came home from that first conference filled with excitement and inspiration from all the new ideas and discussions I had experienced. I met many new teachers and made new friends with many of the participants. Teachers came from all over the world — from Thailand, Poland, Romania, USA, Albania, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, England, Ireland, Germany. These are just a few of the countries that participants represented. The international community represented by the conference participants was perhaps the most exciting aspect of the conference. It reassured many of us to discover that we teachers globally shared similar problems and issues in our teaching situations, and the conference afforded us an opportunity to share our teaching stories of success and disappointment and to allow us to work together to discover new strategies and solutions. At the same time, we forged new relationships within the international community that will allow us to continue this important discussion when we teachers returned home to our own countries.

Veronika Kimiti, Kerstin Wartberg
The list of teachers, countries, and most important, the presenters at the conference, is long and varied. All are respected representatives of their teaching community in their home countries and elsewhere internationally. What amazed me last year and again this year was the openness and interested interaction of all the teachers that I met and spoke with. Everyone who attended the conference stated to me that they attended for the purpose of building a global community of teachers -- both Suzuki and nonSuzuki. We shared the same teaching issues and struggles and often the same teaching point puzzles among our students. I overheard more than one participant share the comfort they received from their discovery that other teachers had teaching experiences that mirrored their own, that teaching was basically the same everywhere.

My favorite conference takeaway was that we are not alone as teachers, nor are we to be isolated and separated from each other by artificial and nonproductive constraints. We all love music and teaching and wish to share our joy of music with the students who have come to us and asked to share our teaching joy and experience with them. The teachers who attended and presented at this conference frequently expressed their interest in connecting with each other as nurturers of young students. We shared the same philosophy that what we teachers do in our profession is too important to try and limit it in a box. Rather than look for ways to exclude people (teachers and students, organizational members or nonmembers, Suzuki or nonSuzuki), we wanted to look for ways to connect with each other. We wanted to focus our efforts on inclusion to the community rather than exclusion.

I believe that this is what Dr. Suzuki wanted. I believe that he expected us to absorb his ideas about philosophy, teaching, learning, and character development and then run away with them down the road until we reached everyone with these ideas. I believe that he encouraged the teachers who attended his presentations, workshops, and trainings to keep growing and to keep looking for answers to solve teaching problems.

"Man is the son of his environment," Dr. Suzuki said. I believe Dr. Suzuki served as the perfect role model for how to develop philosophy and search for new ideas. Dr. Suzuki himself experimented as a matter of course, and he showed us the way and provided us with the model example of how we could continue to develop. He did not close doors to experimentation or membership or training. He opened his arms wide and talked about nurturing, love, growth, and development through the vehicle of music and teaching, and he included everyone. His mission for the world was too great to be limiting.

I was not blessed to have met or study personally with Dr. Suzuki, but I have read his materials, books, and articles. I am an avid reader of all things Suzuki-related, and I appreciate the time and effort taken by those early teaching pioneers in the Suzuki community who wrote books and articles about their experiences with Dr. Suzuki and his workshops and trainings. It is my fervent hope and mission that we will all share our belief in the universal message that all "children have talent" and "character first, ability second."

I found all these ideas and desires reflected in the faces of the teachers who attended the conference. I shared the same joy of teaching in the words that reflected the heart-songs of the teachers who journeyed from all over the world to share the joy of our various teaching experiences. We shared the firm belief in Dr. Suzuki's question and answer: "What is man's ultimate direction in life? It is to look for love, truth, virtue, and beauty."

I returned home from the conference with a joyful heart and a soul at peace that I am where I need to be as a teacher in a global community. The conference once again renewed my sense of belonging to a mission and a teaching philosophy that is larger than I am, that what we do as teachers is so much more important because of the global impact of our influence on students and parents and family and community.  We shared our love of teaching with each other, and we welcomed everyone's ideas and experiences.

I look forward to next year's conference November 2-5, 2018. Please consider joining me. 

Until next time,

Happy Practicing!

----- Paula -----

© 2017 by Paula E. Bird


  1. Wonderful article! Wish I could go some day.

    1. Thanks, Connie! I hope that many of my friends go next year. Let me know if you decide to do it. We can meet up in Düsseldorf and share a taxi!

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  3. Thank you for this heart-warming article, dear Paula.
    Yes, it was wonderful to meet so many teachers from all over the world, to exchange, to support each other and to experience their great knowledge and deep thoughts, their strong desire to deveop themselves, but also to develop the level of teaching and teaching materials.

    Shinichi Suzuki wanted us to go in this direction. He describes this process as follows:
    "We are born with natural ability to learn...
    A living tree brings forth buds; on each branch blooms lovely flowers. It is the splendid course of nature.
    Man, I believe, should follow Mother Nature and bring forth fruit.
    What is man's ultimate direction in life? It is to look for love, truth, virtue and beauty."