Author Archives: Brad

New Year ’22 Update

Lessons & Group Classes

Private will resume on Thursday, January 6 and run through Saturday, May 29. We’re excited to see each of you again, set new goals for the remainder of this school year, prepare for everything that’s coming up this spring, and see how much each of you grow over the course of this Spring ’22 Semester!

Our 12 weeks of group classes for the Spring ’22 Semester will run on Tuesday evenings from March 1 – May 24. Group classes will continue to meet at the Saxony Clubhouse, 1208 Brittany Pkwy. Fall’s group classes were such a support to students’ development, and we’re excited for this spring’s classes! If you are unsure of your group class assignment or it’s meeting time, just ask your teacher.

One quick note: our Spring Break will be the week of Monday, March 21 – Saturday, March 26. We hope this aligns with most of your school Spring Breaks, but if it does not and you would like to try to switch lessons with another family to accommodate your Spring Break, please do so at your earliest convenience!

COVID-19 Policies

Heading into this new year, we are going to continue to require masking for students, parents, and anyone else who comes into the studio or attends group classes. We’re also going to maintain a 10-day quarantine period for the foreseeable future for anyone who tests positive or experiences a known exposure. We hope that by following these two simple steps we can play our part in keeping the members of our community healthy, safe, and leading uninterrupted lives, and can keep our programs running smoothly throughout the second half of the school year. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation!

Missouri Federation of Music Clubs

Every spring, we look forward to helping students prepare for opportunities offered by the Missouri Federation of Music Clubs local chapter, the “Virtuoso Club.” For every student, there’s the opportunity to perform select pieces for a judge at the Festival, get helpful feedback, and earn points, ribbons, and trophies. Students in 7th grade and above also have the opportunity to participate in the Camp Music Scholarship Competition to earn up to $500 to put towards music education opportunities over the summer. Students in 10th grade and above can also participate in the District Competition, with the opportunity to continue onto the State Competition.

This year’s Festival entries will be judged by video submission on the weekend of April 23-24. Camp Scholarship and District Competitions will be held in person at the Steinway Gallery on Dorsett on Saturday, March 26. Registration for all events is due by February 15, so Kirby and I will be talking with each of you soon about what events you might like to participate in, and selecting repertoire to prepare accordingly.

Solo Recitals & Spring Festival

Towards the end of each school year, we look forward to our Spring Solo Recitals and our Spring Festival Group Performance. We are still working on setting concrete dates and times for both events, as we want to find days that conflict with as few other events in students lives as possible and performance venues that enhance the experiences as much as possible for students and their families. For now know we’re aiming for a Sunday afternoon in late April / early May for Solo recitals and a Sunday afternoon in mid-late May for the Spring Festival, and we’ll keep you posted throughout the semester as we’ve solidified more details!

That takes care of everything for now, so we’ll see you starting Thursday, January 8, and we have every expectation that with lots of work, lots of laughs, lots of practice, lots of thought, and lots of learning, this will be an exceptional spring! See you all soon!

Holiday ’21 Update

Hello WCS Students & Families!

It’s hard to believe that we’re entering the holiday season and 2021 is nearing an end. It many ways, it feels like the year has absolutely flown by, but when we look back at the year as a whole, so much has happened.

What A Year!

We started 2021 with roughly 50% of our students’ and their families feeling comfortable coming to lessons in the studio in person, and seeing the other 50% online. The church that we had used for years for group classes was still closed to the public, and many facilities still had very uncertain availability, but the Campbells were kind enough to open their home to us for our Tuesday-evening group classes, which turned out to be so special as it was our first time all getting back together – and we got to hold some absolutely wonderful classes and rehearse some exceptionally rewarding music like the Vivaldi Concerto for 2 Violins in D Minor and the Bach Fugue in G Minor. At the end of the Spring ’21 Semester, we were able to hold our solo recitals in person, which again was especially meaningful because of the ability for us to share our music with each other in the same place as each other once again.

By summer, we were fortunate to be seeing almost all of our students in person once again, and Kirby and I even had the pleasure of seeing some of you at the Colorado Suzuki Institute, where we had the opportunity to teach in June. Kirby and I were both also able to take further Suzuki teacher training through the Ithaca Suzuki Institute in Ithaca, NY. We love to take every opportunity we can to continue our training, as it fills us up with new ideas to in turn pour into you all in lessons and group classes!

This fall, we’ve had such a wonderful blend of continuing to work with students and their families who we’ve known for a long time, and who are growing and maturing – both in music and in life – in ways that are so exciting to see and beginning new relationships with so many new students and their families. It’s always so fun to begin these new musical journeys, start sharing ideas, and see good tone, technique, and musicality begin to grow.

Coming Up Next!

Now, we enter a time to rest, recover, enjoy family, friends, and food, whether at home or on the road, and of course hopefully practice some scales, review pieces, preview spots, and listen to our Suzuki CDs or other recordings! We’ll be on break from lessons from Thursday, December 23, 2021 – Wednesday, January 5, 2022. Lessons will resume on Thursday, January 6. For Kirby and me, this is also a time to prepare and lay out plans for what we’ll be working on with each of you when we return. We always look forward to the Missouri Federation of Music Clubs’ events in the spring, resuming group classes with you all, and preparing for our Spring Festival group performance and Spring Solo Recitals. We’ll have more details about all that and more at the end of break!

With that, we hope that you all enjoy a very happy holiday season. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed this year with each of you, and look forward to all the opportunities we’ll have to learn with you in 2022!

Thanksgiving ’21 Update

Hello WCS Students & Families! 

I know it’s cliche to say, but as we head into Thanksgiving, Ms. Kirby and I are feeling truly and deeply thankful for each and every one of you.  I can’t remember a better start to a school year than we’ve had this year, and we want to thank each of you for your roles in that – your diligent practicing, your commitment to group class and weekly lessons, your listening your CDs in the car and at home, and all the conversations we’ve had over the weeks that allow us to get to know you better and therefore teach you better.  

As a quick reminder, there will be no lessons this upcoming week, Monday, November 22 – Saturday, November, 27 for Thanksgiving Break.  We’ll look forward to seeing you all again for lessons beginning the week of Monday, November 29.  We  hope that amidst all the turkey, stuffing, gravy, and pie, you’re able to find a little extra time in your time off from school to do a little extra practicing!  Because… 

We have rescheduled our Fall ’21 Solo Recitals for the evenings of Tuesday, December 7 and Tuesday, December 14, with a 5:45 and 6:45 p.m. recital on each evening.  A sign-up sheet will be heading your way by email, so please keep your eyes out and take a look at the sign up as soon as you’re able if you have a scheduling need or preference.  We’re so excited for you all to have the opportunity to perform the repertoire you’ve worked so hard to prepare! 

And with that, Ms. Kirby and I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.  Safe travels to those of you heading to other destinations, and we wish you all a very happy holiday with family and friends. 

– Mr. Brad & Ms. Kirby

Congratulations All-Suburban Honors Orchestra Winners!

Hello WCS Students & Families!

Kirby and I want to take a moment to congratulate the WCS students who earned chairs in this year’s St. Louis All-Suburban Honors Orchestra ensembles. It’s always wonderful to see both students’ musical development over years and their concentrated effort to prepare for a specific audition culminate in an honor and an accomplishment for them.

This year, we want to congratulate Serena Huang, who earned a chair as a violinist in the St. Louis All-Suburban High School Honors Orchestra, Tarini Karnati, who earned the principal violist’s chair in the St. Louis All-Suburban High School Honors Orchestra, and Krishne Sundaram, who earned a violinists chair in the St. Louis All-Suburban Middle School Honors Orchestra.

We also want to acknowledge all of our other students who auditioned for an All-Suburban Honors orchestra – your hard work certainly didn’t go unnoticed, and all the progress that you made in preparation for this year’s auditions will absolutely help you be even better-prepared for next year’s and will carry over to the rest of your playing, as well!

If you’re a middle school or high school student who participates in your school’s orchestra and have never auditioned for a St. Louis All-Suburban Honors Orchestra before, we certainly encourage you to consider it for next fall!

Congratulations, once again, Serena, Tarini, and Krishne!

2021 Halloween Group Performance & Party Recap!

Hello WCS Students & Families!

Thank you so, so much to everyone who came out and joined us for our 2021 Halloween Group Performance & Party. Thank you to all the families who helped set up and tear down. Thank you to all the families who brought treats and drinks. Thank you to everyone who has attended group classes throughout the fall semester thus far (don’t forget – there are still more!). And a special thank you to one of our studio families, Ziggy & Darren @luckyfunentertainment for doing all the balloon decorations that made the evening extra fun! Every time we have a studio event like this, Kirby and I are both reminded what a truly, incredibly special community of families we are privileged to have at West County Strings!

These group events are always such a wonderful opportunity to see just how much progress students have made from the start of the school year, but even more than that, how much progress they’ve made from the last time we saw them in their Halloween costumes for our annual Group Performance & Party. Some of the high schoolers in the back row playing Telemann Canonic Sonatas and the Kabelevsky Waltz were once the preschoolers in the front row playing Chicken on a Fencepost Variations and Paw Paw Patch! It’s always so exciting to think back over all of that development.

So, thank you once again for everyone who made this annual studio event possible, and we’ll see you for 2 more group classes this fall, and of course our Fall Solo Recitals coming up on the afternoon of Sunday, November 14!

Paganini Caprice No. 5

We’ve listened to Paganini’s Caprice No. 5 in A Minor here before. It’s a piece that’s often on my mind, as it’s one of the more “accessible” (obviously that’s a relative term, as it is still rather difficult!) of Paganini’s 24 Caprices to students. It’s built on a series of arpeggios and sequences that are not unlike the Wohlfahrt or Kreutzer Etudes that students will have studied by this point in their playing – it’s just more challenging!

Today, I wanted to take a look at two very different versions of the same piece. Both are extremely virtuosic, excellent, and exemplary. But from tempo, to bow stroke, to character and style, the two could hardly be more dissimilar. One is Sumina Studer’s amazing recording, in which she displays incredible technique in using the extraordinarily difficult ricochet bowing that most performers opt not to use for this Caprice. The other is Leonidas Kavakos’, which he approaches with raw power and prowess. Which do you prefer?

Committing to Fill our “Ability Buckets”

A few years ago, the one of the faucets in our house developed what I would have described as a “little drip.” Nothing particularly serious. A little drip every few seconds. Certainly not worth putting right at the top of my to-do list. I’d get around to fixing it when I had the time, I thought.

And then the water bill for that month came in. I don’t recall exactly what it was, but I do remember that it was over ten times our normal monthly bill! I won’t soon forget that part.

So, I went straight to Home Depot, picked up the part needed to fix the leaking seal for, and with about 15 minutes of work, I had the problem solved. Next month, the water bill was back to its normal range.

My point? Even a little drip can add up to a whole lot of water when it drips steadily over time. In this case, the result was not so positive. But let’s turn it around and apply it to something productive.

I hesitate to refer to anything from the ’20-’21 school year as a “silver lining,” because it was such a difficult year for so many people. One of the realities for us at West County Strings, though, was that violin or viola lessons was in many cases the only activity that students were able to stay involved in, as sports and other extracurriculars had to take a break until they could be done safely again.

The result? Students had a lot fewer things vying for their time and attention, and a lot more time to practice! I dare say that a lot of the exceptional results we saw from students during the ’20-’21 school year were due to this reality.

And now, as things increasingly return to “normal,” we are also seeing students and families returning to balancing more and more activities and events, and practicing sometimes getting lost in the mix.

So why did I begin by mentioning our leaky shower and the water bill that ensued?

Because just as even little drip can add up to a whole lot of water, so too can a little bit of careful, consistent, thoughtful, focused practice add up to a whole lot of ability.

I’ve been thinking about it like this:

We’re all trying to fill up what we’ll call our “buckets of ability.” We try to fill them up before coming to each lesson. We try to fill them up on a larger scale over the course of a semester before recitals. And we try to fill them up on an even larger scale over the course of a whole school year, and over the course of many years of practice.

The problem is that all too often – and especially this year as we all get back to more and more different types of activities and events – we try to turn that metaphorical “faucet” on all the way and fill up our bucket in one or two big efforts over the course of the week.

And I suppose that would be okay, if our bodies and brains worked that way. But for better or worse, they don’t. Our bodies and brains work best, learn best, and develop best with high-frequency, moderate-intensity efforts.

Dr. Suzuki didn’t have all the science that we have today to back this fact up when he started teaching, but he knew it from observing life. And he wrote about it a lot. In the preface to Suzuki Violin Book 1 (Revised Edition, pg. 5), he says:

“It is the daily practice at home that leads to ability development. The key is how much and how well the student practices the teachers’ instructions.” (emphasis mine)

So, as we find ourselves roughly a quarter of the way into the Fall ’21 Semester, I’d like to encourage each of our students, and each of their families, to commit to this idea of a steady, daily filling of our “buckets of ability” through practice.

Ideally, this would mean focusing on the materials assigned in each students’ private lesson. It may be necessary to practice music for school or community orchestras, as well, but these should not be considered replacements for developing individual skill on lesson assignments.

Given that we are only human, not all days will be of the same length or quality, and some days it may feel utterly impossible to practice (Dr. Suzuki would remind you, “Only practice on the days you eat!”). On the most difficult days, it may be a good idea to simply practice a scale or review piece and relax with the Suzuki CD or recording of another work you are learning.

There is more we can all talk about individually in lessons as the school year goes on, but I’d like to think of West County Strings as a place where each and every student is slowly, steadily filling their “bucket of ability,” and will eventually find it overflowing!

’21-’22 Play-In & Ice Cream Social Recap

Thank you to everyone who joined us for our annual Play-In & Ice Cream Social to kick off the ’21-’22 school year! It was so nice to see so many familiar faces, and to get to put new names and faces together for the first time, as well. And it’s always fun to shake the rust off of some Suzuki review pieces, get a feel for our starting point for the school year, and then think ahead to where we’ll be by the time our Halloween Group Performance, Fall Solo Recitals, Spring Festival Group Performance, and Spring Solo Recitals all come around.

Group classes begin at their regularly-scheduled times next week, so be sure to double-check the group class rosters for your child’s class time, and plan to arrive 5-10 minutes early to unpack and get ready to tune. Brahms and Bartok classes, don’t forget to bring your technique and/or repertoire packets that you picked up this evening from Ms. Kirby with you next week, along with a stand. We’re looking forward to all the ways we can learn and grow this school year in group class alongside your weekly private lessons!

Congratulations ’21-’22 SLSYO Audition Winners!

Kirby and I want to take a moment to extend our heartfelt congratulations to Aaron Wolz and Kaya McNurlen, two members of our West County Strings community who earned places in the ’21-’22 St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra through their audition efforts earlier this summer. It’s always wonderful to see students’ years of musical growth and development mature into opportunities like this, and we trust that they’ll thoroughly enjoy their experience as members of the SLSYO this upcoming season. Once again, congratulations, Kaya and Aaron!

’20-’21 Registration Now Open!

Hello WCS Students & Families! 

I hope you all have been enjoying a wonderful summer, and had a fabulous July 4 weekend in particular.  From a teacher’s perspective, Kirby and I have been loving this summer – with more free time and less school stressors, students have been absorbing information like sponges, and making huge strides in their technique, repertoire, and overall musicianship.  

As much as we’ve been enjoying summer, it’s already time to start preparing for the ’21-’22 school year, in which Kirby and I look forward to furthering and deepening each student’s individual ability and accomplishments, as well as building upon the exceptional work that students did in group classes to help them become better ensemble musicians.  

Our ’21-’22 school year will run from Monday, August 23, 2021 – Saturday, May 28, 2022.  Registration for the ’21-’22 school year is due by Sunday, August 8, so that Kirby and I can have time to create a schedule that works for everyone and get that information out to everyone a week before the school year begins.  Please download a copy of our ’21-’22 Registration Form, which can be returned hard copy or by email.  Similarly, registration fees can be paid by cash, check, Zelle, or Venmo.  

After a ’20-’21 school year that required extraordinary adaptability from all of us, Kirby and I are very much looking forward to a ’21-’22 school year full of much more “normalcy,” and the ability fo focus on the community, collaboration, relationship, and enjoyment that comes along with all the dedication and hard work we, our students, and their families engage in in order to achieve exceptional musical ability.  We can’t wait to start this upcoming school year with all of you!