Author Archives: Brad

New Year ’20 Update

Happy New Year, West County Strings families!  Kirby and I are looking forward to seeing you all again, and to everything that we will be able to learn and accomplish together as this new decade unfolds!  Here’s a few highlights from the end of 2019 and things to add to your 2020 calendar:

Holiday Play-Along Party

Thank you once again to the Garcias for hosting our Holiday Play-Along Party again this year.  After solo recitals, and orchestra concerts, and auditions, and everything else that goes into wrapping up the semester, it was perfect for the very last thing that we did as a studio in 2019 to just be for fun.  And fun it was!  It was so gratifying to see students sight-reading together – and with facility and very nice technique, might I add! – and students and parents alike playing, chatting, and just generally having a good time.  Many thanks also to Jenina Kenessey and Dan Mieloch for bringing their cello and viola along and adding to our ensemble, and we look forward to this event again at the end of 2020!

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Lessons & Group Classes Resume

Private lessons resume on Monday, January 6 and group classes on Tuesday, January 7.  If you’ve used your long car trips or plane flights as an opportunity to listen to your Suzuki CD for hours on end, and your days off of school to practice daily and for longer than usual, good for you!  If, more likely, travel and the lack of routine have been rough on your listening and practicing, then take this encouragement as your incentive to dust off your CD and your violin or viola and get the juices flowing again!

As for group classes, we look forward to seeing everyone who joined us in the fall, and more!  I can’t stress enough how valuable the review, repetition, ensemble environment, and varieties of teaching and learning methods that happen in group class are, and how much progress they lead to.  So, if you weren’t able to join us in the fall, jump in and join us now!  We’d love to have you there, and I know it will be well worth your time.

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MFMC “Virtuoso Club” Events

Throughout the year, the Missouri Federation of Music Clubs, and specifically a St. Louis Chapter the “Virtuoso Club,” offers a wide variety of events that enrich students learning experience.  Many of them are coming up this spring, including:

  • District IV Competition:  Held on Wednesday, March 25 at Steinway Piano Gallery, the District Competition provides an opportunity for students Grade 10 and above to perform one required piece and one piece of their choice for the chance to win district honors and the opportunity to continue on to compete at the state level.  This is a great resume-builder, held in a warm and supportive environment, which makes it a great way to build experience for further auditions and competitions.
  • Music Camp Scholarship Competition: Held on Saturday, March 28 at DaySpring Arts, the Music Camp Scholarship Competition gives students Grades 7-9 and 10-12 to perform one required piece and one piece of their choice for the chance to win one of multiple $500 scholarships that can be applied to any summer music camp of their choice.  What a great way to help cover the costs of those wonderful strings camps and Suzuki Institutes that so many of you already participate in every year!
  • Festival: Held on Saturday and Sunday, April 25-26 at St. Charles Community College the Festival is the Virtuoso Club’s main event of the year – a weekend full of music in which students of any age can perform one required piece and one piece of their choice for a judge in order to receive feedback and earn points towards ribbons and trophies that can be accumulated over the years.  I know the idea of a “judge” can be scary, but by and large they are other teachers that Kirby and I know personally, and who are very warm and supportive in their feedback.  The intent is to be positive and educational.

 

There will be more to come, but that should get us off to a good start.  As a parting note, I meant to share the Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 8 “Fatto per la notte de Natale” (Made for the night of Christmas), with you all earlier in December.  But, as we’re still in the holiday season, I suppose it’s still appropriate.  Here’s a nice rendition, not with a full ensemble of Baroque instruments, but in what we could call a faithful attempt at Baroque style.  Enjoy!

Fall ’19 Solo Recital Recap

Hello Everyone!

Kirby and I want to extend a huge thank you to all the students who participated in this past weekends’ recitals, to their families for everything you do week in and week out that makes such wonderful, culminating events like this possible.

We weren’t able to snap photos of every performance, but what I love in all the photos we were able to get is the focus in each and every student’s eyes.  So many students rose to the occasion and performed their pieces better than they ever had before, and the result was many, many impressively artistic and masterful performances at every level of repertoire.  It is certainly an afternoon that Kirby and I will remember for a long time, and one that motivates us to jump into what’s next for each student with great energy, because it’s working and the results are inspiring!  Families, we hope you’re incredibly proud of your children for the hard work they put in over many days, weeks, and months.  Thinking back to the performances on our spring recitals in May, it’s amazing how far each and every student has come.

I also love the smiles, some during the performances, and many more after.  We’re thankful to have such a wonderful community of students and families who make such a unique, supportive, nurturing environment in which students can really thrive.

We look forward to seeing you all in lessons through December 21, and building on the wonderful work each student has done thus far this fall!

 

Thanksgiving ’19 Update

It hardly seems possible, but Thanksgiving is already this upcoming Thursday.  My, how this semester has flown!  I remember thinking back in September that this Fall ’19 Semester, in particular, had gotten off to a really great start, and while there have been the occasional ups and downs, this semester has remained quite exceptional, with many, many students listening to their CDs frequently, practicing consistently, and coming to group class regularly.  And as the old saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding,” meaning, in this case, that the results in greater ability, confidence, and maturity are there.

I want to take a moment to specifically thank the students and parents who attended group class so regularly throughout the semester.  We had a really exceptional semester of groups, and every week it brought a smile to my face to see students learning alongside their friends and classmates, often with their parents participating right along with them.  The older my own children get, the more I understand how hard it can be to give up time on another weeknight, and your efforts are not lost on us.  Group classes really are almost the “magic ingredient” in everything that we do – letting students hear and observe what’s going to be coming up as “new” for them, giving them opportunity to practice everything that is “review” for them, building a community of others pursuing the same goals as them, and developing skills that can’t be taught the same way 1-on-1.  So, truly: thank you!

And in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to make sure that you all know just how much Kirby and I appreciate each and every single one of you – parents, students, siblings, grandparents – everyone who makes this learning opportunity possible for the students we work with.  We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Kirby and I both feel like the families that make up West County Strings are incredibly special, and West County Strings wouldn’t be what it is without each and every single one of you and your commitment to providing the opportunity for your children to learn, and grow, and develop in unique and powerful ways that only studying a musical instrument can bring.  So, thank you for being here, and helping us create a warm and nurturing environment in which excellence can be pursued and achieved!


Thanksgiving Break

Now, as much as we love all of you, we’ll be taking a break the week of Thanksgiving so there will be no lessons the week of November 25-30.  We hope you all enjoy some time to rest, relax, and be with friends and family, whether here in St. Louis or elsewhere.

Likewise, there will be no group classes, because group classes are on break until the New Year.

So, take the week off, but keep on listening to your CDs and pick up your instruments to practice a bit each day, because as soon as we come back from Thanksgiving Break, we have our…


Fall Solo Recitals

 

Our Fall Solo Recitals this year will be held on the afternoon of Sunday, December 8 in the KREW House at Chesterfield Presbyterian Church.  This means that we will only have one short week to get in performance shape after Thanksgiving Break, so take the opportunity to practice more in your time off from school, not less!

You should have received an email detailing which recital you have been assigned to.  If you are unsure about this or any other information about the recitals, please ask your teacher as soon as possible.

Piano rehearsals in preparation for the recitals will be held on Tuesday, December 2, and if need be also on Monday, December 3.  You can sign up for a rehearsal time here.  While you’re signing up, please also stop by the reception sign-up sheet to let us know if you’d like to help set up, bring food or drinks, or help clean up after your recital’s reception.  We couldn’t make it all happen without you!


Holiday Play-Along Party

For the second year, the Garcia-Dominguez family has most graciously offered to host a holiday party for the studio!  We are so looking forward to this opportunity to sight-read some holiday tunes, learn a few more tunes by ear, enjoy some good food and drinks, give students the opportunity to develop friendships with their fellow studio-mates, and have the chance to visit with you all more ourselves.  So, here’s what you need to know:

Who: All West County Strings students and their families.

What: An informal holiday party with food, drinks, sight-reading, some Suzuki-style learning by ear, and music-themed party games.

When: Sunday, December 22 from 2-4 p.m.

Where: The Garcia-Dominguez’s (address will be on cards we hand out in lessons in the weeks following Thanksgiving Break).

Why: It’s so valuable and important to provide students with fun, low-pressure, memory-making musical opportunities that help them build community and stay motivated!

How: Simply sign up to bring a food or drink to share, bring your violin or viola, a foldable stand if you have one, and meet us there!

 

There’s so many good things on the horizon, and we look forward to enjoying them all with you.  But first, we hope you all have a wonderful, restful Thanksgiving.  We’re certainly thankful for you!

Halloween Party ’19 Recap!

Many thanks to all our students and their families who were able to join us for our annual Halloween Party this year!  From bringing your children to group class week after week, to helping set up for the performance, coming up with such creative costumes, bringing such delicious treats, helping clean up afterwards, and just generally being such wonderful parents who are so invested in your children’s growth and development, events like these always serve to remind us just what a special community we have here at West County Strings and what an opportunity we have to teach children in this wonderful environment!  An extra special thanks to Lisa Gottfried who volunteered to take the lead on setting up the reception – we truly couldn’t have put such a nice evening together without her.

It was so encouraging to see how much each group of students – and each individual student in them – had developed in the short time since groups started meeting at the beginning of September, and how much each piece that they performed had progressed!  Group classes really are vital to long-term success in musical study.  Students who attend group learn new pieces faster (because they’re seeing and hearing them played), remember everything they’ve learned in the past better (because they’re playing it frequently), and stay motivated longer (because they’re having fun and forming friendships).  So, If you’ve been coming to group classes on evenings thus far this semester, don’t forget – groups will still be meeting in November.  And if you haven’t been able to join us for groups yet this school year,   it’s not too late to start – ask your teacher how to plug in this month!

October ’19 Update

Hello Everyone!

I know it might be hard to believe, but as of this week we are nearly halfway through the Fall ’19 Semester!  This school year got off to perhaps the best start I can remember, with students and families across the board practicing consistently, listening to their CDs, attending group class, and making consistent progress.  As we’ve settled into the school year, some of the early enthusiasm has waned, practicing, listening, and group class attendance have dropped off a bit, and progress has generally slowed.  As we approach the midway point of the semester, I want to take a moment to pause, reflect, and offer a few words of advice and encouragement.


Practice

Dr. Suzuki used to say, “Practice only on the days you eat!”  When I was younger, this admonishment from my teachers always felt like an impossible burden, but as I’ve grown older I’ve realized that there’s actually great freedom in this mindset, for a few reasons:

  • It’s easier.  It’s much more manageable to do a little something every day than it is to try and do a lot every couple of days.  You never have to “psyche yourself up” for a grueling practice session, you just have to show up and put in your little bit of careful, focused work every day and then be done with it.  These little deposits of effort really add up, and without ever feeling like you’ve done a lot, you’ll look back 6 months from now and realize you’ve made a lot of progress, because…
  • It’s more effective.  Our brains learn better from high frequency than they do from high volume.  Who do you think would learn a new language faster – a student who goes over their vocabulary flashcards for 60 minutes once a week, or a student who goes over them for 10 minutes every night?  It’s the same with an instrument.  Our brains are like sponges and can only “soak up” so much at one time.  The more frequently we practice, the shorter, more focused, and thereby more productive we can keep our sessions.
  • It feels good.  No matter what else happens every day, you have a sense of having accomplished something when you’ve practiced.  We shouldn’t underestimate the positive power of this sense of achievement and self-worth.  Likewise, we shouldn’t underestimate the negative power of letting practice lapse.  Students know when they’re not doing well, even if they’re not told, and if left unchecked these feelings can spiral downward and lead to wanting to quit.  Small, frequent, manageable chunks of practice, along with free-flowing praise and support from parents and other family for a job well done are the answer!

With these things in mind, I want to issue the challenge to every family to seriously consider practicing every day from here on out.  Often, this means sitting down as a family and looking at the schedule to see when students could realistically practice every day.  It means supporting students by making scheduled times consistently available to them, and it means following up with students to help them develop and maintain the discipline to practice every day.  I can’t say it’s effortless, but I can say it’s worth it.  One thing I know is that if you’re here at West County Strings, it’s because you want your child to succeed – not just in music, but in life.  Developing the habit of practicing every day is the most surefire way to achieve that success that I know of.

 

Listening

As many of you know, I start lessons off by asking students how many days they’ve practiced in the past week.  I have done this for many years, as it gives me a valuable insight as to what to expect from the rest of the lesson, the pace at which I’ll be able to teach material, and much more.  This year, I added another question: “How many days did you listen this week?”  The answers have somewhat surprised me!  As a studio, I would say we are listening 2-3 days/week, with a few students averaging closer to 5-6 days, and some averaging closer to 1.  You’ve probably heard me say this before, but let me say it again:

Listening to your Suzuki CD (or other recording if you’re working on music outside the Suzuki literature) is the single fastest and easiest way to increase your rate of progress.  Listening makes learning come easier.  When learning feels easier, it’s more enjoyable.  When it’s more enjoyable, students want to do it more.  This is all positive, and leads to great places.  Not listening makes learning come harder.  When learning feels harder, it’s less enjoyable.  When it’s less enjoyable, students want to do it less.  This is all negative, and doesn’t lead to good places.   If that’s not convincing enough, consider that one of the foremost string musicians of our generation says that listening until he can sing a piece through is the absolute first thing he does when learning a new piece of music.  This is the Suzuki Method at heart, and people use it because it works!

I know there’s often a lot of pushback from students about listening to the CD in the car, at home, or in the CD player or iHome next to their bed when they wake up in the morning or go to sleep at night.  They’d much rather be listening to whatever the latest and greatest thing is that they and all their friends are into.  Sometimes, there’s pushback from parents, too.  Trust me, I get it – oftentimes, I’d rather listen to NPR, or ESPN, or a podcast, or something else on the radio, too.  We have to remember, though, that every time we put on the Suzuki CD on, we’re helping our children learn, we’re helping them have a really successful, positive lesson that week, and by doing that consistently over months and years, we’re helping them develop a discipline and a skill with their instrument that will train their brains to think well, give them a tremendous sense of accomplishment and self-worth, and open doors to opportunities for them not only as children but truly for the rest of their lives.  In short, it’s worth it!

So, I want to challenge every family in the studio to make listening to your Suzuki CD part of your daily routine, too.  With today’s technology, it couldn’t be easier.  I can only imagine how exceptionally well we would do as a studio if everyone listened to their CD every single day.  If we all practiced every day, too?  I think the results would exceed everyone’s expectations!

 

Stay tuned for Part II: Group Class & Recitals!

-Brad

Fall ’19 Newsletter

The ’19-’20 school year at West County Strings kicks off Monday, August 19.  We’re so looking forward to all that we’ll be able to learn and accomplish together with all of our students and their families this school year!  For everything you need to know to start the year off on the right foot, please read our Fall ’19 Newsletter (download here).  We’ll see you all next week!

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2019-2020 Registration Now Open!

Hello Everyone!

I hope you are enjoying your summer, whether here in St. Louis, or traveling around the country or around the world!  At various music camps and Suzuki Institutes this summer, Kirby and I have had the opportunity to work with students both from around the St. Louis area and from all parts of the country.  And while that is always invigorating, rewarding, and a lot of fun, what it has really left me feeling is that what we have the opportunity to do day-in and day-out, year-round at West County Strings is special and doesn’t happen just anywhere.  Every day, students at West County Strings are getting a clearer vision of what musical excellence is, and what holding themselves to the highest standard of ability looks like.  They are getting the skills that help them achieve that musical excellence, skills that carry over as personal qualities and characteristics that help them succeed in many other areas of life.  We strive to hold ourselves to the highest standard as teachers each and every day, and to create the absolute best musical education and experience for you and your children that we can.  And we look thank you for joining us in this pursuit!

So now, even as another half of the summer stretches out in front of us, it’s time to start preparing for the upcoming 2019-2020 school year!  Here is your copy of our 2019-2020 Registration Form.  Please complete and return this form, along with your registration fee as soon as possible, and no later than July 31.  Please note that if you have not completed the “Policies” portion of your form or included a registration fee, we will not be able to process your registration.  The sooner we receive everyone’s forms, the sooner Kirby and I will be able to see how our teaching days and blocks will fill out this school year, and the better job we will be able to do of creating a schedule that works for everyone.  If we do not receive your form in a timely fashion, it is likely we will not be able to schedule you at your desired time, and possible that we will not be able to schedule you at all.  So please act promptly!

As Kirby and I prepare for another new school year, we are thinking about each and every one of our returning students, and those new students that we’ve had the pleasure to meet this summer and are asking ourselves: How can we create a vision for this student of just how wonderful, amazing, beautiful, and worthy of pursuing music is?  How can we inspire them to dedicate themselves to the daily practice and improvement of their skills and abilities?  What concrete steps does this particular student need to take this year, and what insight and information can I pass on to them to best help them in that journey?  What kind of musical opportunities and connections can we create for this students, both here in the St. Louis area and abroad?  How can we make this year a year that this student and their family will look back on fondly as a cherished musical memory for years to come?  I trust that you will be able to see these questions being answered as the 2019-2020 school year unfolds, and we look forward to each special moment of this year’s journey with you!

As always, as you go through the registration process please let me know if you have any questions at all, and I will be happy to answer them as quickly as I can.

Thanks, and have a wonderful rest of your summer!

– Brad