2021 “Virtuoso Club” Student Opportunities

Hello WCS Students & Families!

Every spring, we look forward to the opportunities made available to our students through the “Virtuoso Club,” one of St. Louis’ local chapters of the Missouri Federation of Music Clubs. These include:

Spring Festival

Available to the widest range of student ages and levels, the Spring Festival gives students the opportunity to prepare a required piece, and a choice piece – or a required concerto movement – to perform for a judge. Students will then receive judge’s feedback, and earn a yearly ribbon and points towards trophies (several of you are on the cusp of earning your next trophy this year!). It’s a great opportunity to prepare perform under a bit of pressure, but still in a warm, safe, nurturing environment that’s designed to encourage not to critique. And the annual achievements serve as a great motivator for many students.

Music Camp Scholarship Competition

The Music Camp Scholarship Competition is held in two levels of competition, and available to students in 7th – 8th – 9th and 10th – 11th – 12th grade, respectively. Winners can earn up to $500 to be used towards a music education opportunity, and still receive judges feedback, ribbons, and progress towards trophies like Spring Festival participants, so it’s a great opportunity to take advantage of for all who are able. Prior year’s winners are not eligible to participate, which means that we’ll have a few students who can’t compete in this competition this year, but will be able to again next year. But we do have quite a few students for whom this would be a great opportunity!

District Competition

The District Competition is reserved for students in 10th – 11th – 12th grade, and offers winners the opportunity to compete at the State Competition. It is a higher level of competition, and serves as a great preparatory experience as well as a nice honor for winners to use on resumes. Prior year’s Camp Scholarship Competition winners should strongly consider competition in this competition this year.

Many of you will be used to participating in the Camp Scholarship and District Competitions at the Steinway Piano Gallery on Dorsett Rd. in March, and at the Spring Festival at St. Charles Community College in April. However, due to the ongoing difficulty of securing locations for large groups of participants, the Virtuoso Club has decided to hold this year’s events by online video submission this year, as they did in 2020. This means all participants can prepare performing with a prerecorded accompaniment track, and submit their performance at their convenience.

The cost for entry into all events is $30. Please make entry fees out to West County Strings, and we’ll submit a single payment for the studio. Registrations are due from by February 15, and video submissions are due by April 8th. Although that seems like a long way away, we’ve already started preparing in many instances, and should certainly start preparing as soon as possible for anyone who would like to participate! Let’s all make sure to discuss your opportunities in your next lesson.

New Year ’21 Update

Hello WCS Students & Families,

Welcome to 2021 at West County Strings! Kirby and I are so looking forward to each and every teaching moment, learning opportunity, and continuing to develop and deepen our relationship with each of you during this upcoming year. By the end of 2021, we hope and trust that each of you will look back at a vast chasm between your ability when you started the year as compared to where you ended up!

Here’s a few key dates for the beginning of 2021 to note:

Private lessons will resume on Wednesday, January 6 and run through Saturday, May 29.

Group classes will resume on Tuesday evenings at the beginning of March and run through May.

Missouri Federation of Music Clubs opportunities are available through the local “Virtuoso Club.” These include the chance at a $500 scholarship as a winner of the Summer Music Camp Scholarship Competition, District Honors and the chance to compete at the State level through District Competition, and a performance opportunities, insightful judge feedback, ribbons and points towards trophies as part of the Spring Festival. All events will be held via video submission this spring, and your teacher will be in touch regarding repertoire selection and requirements, if you have not begun preparing your repertoire already.

And of course, as always, we will have our Spring Solo Recitals and Spring Festival Group Performance to look forward to and work hard to prepare for, as well!

I think that about sums it up for now, so we look forward to seeing you all again beginning on the 6th, and we trust that you’ve been listening, reviewing, and practicing new material over the break. If you’ve fallen a bit rusty, now would be a great time to dust things off and buff them up. We’ll see you soon!

Holiday ’20 Update

“Where love is deep, much can be accomplished.” – Dr. Sinichi Suzuki

To say that 2020 has been a “wild ride” would be an understatement of the highest degree. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to come up with a superlative that is too extreme or extraordinary for the unprecedented challenges we’ve all faced this year. As the year draws to a close, and we sit back and reflect on all that has happened over the course of the past twelve months, Kirby and I have been struck by just what a constant joy and pleasure making music, teaching music, and navigating all of the challenges of this year with each and every one of you has been. We always feel blessed to have the opportunity to do what we do, to bring the joy of learning music and developing musical ability to children and their families, but we have never felt that blessing more profoundly than this year.

This has caused us to think back not only on this year, but on the 12 years that we have now been in St. Louis teaching music. The number of wonderful relationships that music has brought us into, the number of children we have been able to see go from forming their first bow hold to heading off to college and beyond, and the number of special, unforgettable musical and relational moments that we have had as music teachers is overwhelming. That’s why this year we wanted to send this message not only to all current West County Strings students and families, but to everyone who’s ever been a part of our teaching here in St. Louis. You are all part of a special group of people to us. We’re so thankful for you, and the ways in which you have enriched and continue to enrich our lives.

As noted above, Dr. Suzuki was famous for his belief that, “Where love is deep, much can be accomplished.” Stated differently, it is only when there is a mutual understanding, respect, and closeness between parents, the student, and the teacher that ability can truly be developed to its highest degree. We’re so thankful that due to the relationships we’ve been able to develop with each of you, West County Strings has been a place where love has been deep and much has been able to be accomplished, and we look forward to 2021 as an even better and brighter year than all that have come before.

For all current students and families, we will be on Winter Break from Wednesday, December 23, 2020 – Tuesday, January 5, 2021. Private lessons will resume on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, and we plan for our group class sessions of the Spring ’21 Semester to begin in March. There’s a lot coming up at the start of the New Year, including All-State auditions on January 13. So, be sure to use your time over break wisely, both to rest and relax and to listen, prepare, and practice well!

If you are an alumni or former member of West County Strings, we would love to hear from you this holiday season. We hope that you have all been safe and well, and would love to know what you and your families are up to these days. You have all played a special part in our lives, and we’d love to stay connected with you.

To everyone that music teaching has brought Kirby and I into contact with – Happy Holidays! We are blessed to know you, and so thankful for you. We’ll see you in 2021!

– Brad & Kirby

Welcome Back!

Hello WCS Students & Families!

Kirby and I hope that you enjoyed a wonderful, relaxing Thanksgiving Break and are reenergized and ready to dive into this short but incredibly sweet few weeks between the holidays. Here’s a few of the things we’ll be focusing on in this segment of the school year:

  • Preparing for our final Zoom “Home Concert” of 2020 (Sunday, December 13)!
  • Preparing for All-State auditions (video submissions due by 11:59 p.m. on January 13, 2021).
  • Selecting and beginning to prepare repertoire for Spring ’21 Missouri Federation of Music Clubs events (Festival, Camp Scholarship Competition, and District Competition).

All of this will lead up to our Winter Break, from December 23, 2020 – January 5, 2021.

As we enter into this time of year with so much to look forward to, we also realize that this year this is a time of year to be particularly careful. We want everyone to enter into the holiday season and the new year safe and healthy! I found this infographic helpful for this season between holiday gatherings:

So, please play everything “on the safe side.” With that in mind:

  • If you learn you have had an exposure, please self-quarantine for 14 days and take your private lessons on Zoom during that period, even if you have tested negative.
  • If you attended a Thanksgiving gathering with members outside your immediate family, please consider taking lessons on Zoom for a 14-day period after that gathering.
  • If you attended a Thanksgiving gathering with 10 or more members, we ask that you do take lessons on Zoom for a 14-day period after that gathering.

Thank you for your understanding as we strive to provide the best experience we can while keeping all of the members of our community healthy and safe. We look forward to seeing you all for lessons again starting today!

Thanksgiving ’20 Update

Hello WCS Students & Families!

It’s hard to believe it’s already time for Thanksgiving – in part because the weather has yet to finally make up its mind to turn to a truly crisp, cold autumn air, and in part because the challenges of this year have made it harder to look up from our day-to-day lives and look forward to milestones on the horizon. I think that makes it all the more important to really take a moment to celebrate what we have to be thankful for this year! As we head into a week of Thanksgiving Break (remember, no lessons from November 23-28!) here’s a few highlights that I’d like to share:

As mentioned above, we’ve had an incredibly mild Fall ’20 Semester thus far – neither unbearably hot, untenably cold, or frequently raining – and never before in my life have I been so thankful for good weather! Good weather has afforded us the opportunity to meet together for lessons and group classes outdoors, which gave us access to two things that have been hard to come by this year – in-person interaction, and safety and peace of mind. So, while the weather is usually something reserved to talk about when we can’t think up any real topic of conversation, this year it’s something I’m truly, truly thankful for.

Speaking of in-person interaction, I don’t think there’s ever been a year in which I’ve gotten to know each and every student and family in our studio better. Even those of you whom Kirby and I have had the privilege of working with for nearly a decade, I feel we’ve gotten to know much more deeply this year, as we’ve shared our feelings on the struggles of this year, learned from each other, and supported one another. We’ve also had unique opportunities to stay connected with members of our alumni community, which grows larger year by year! Every year, I’m thankful for each and every student and their family and the relationship that we share, but never have I been more thankful for that opportunity, nor has the thought of our weekly interactions brought more of a smile to my face than this year!

And on the topic of safety and peace of mind, I am truly thankful for the respect, consideration, understanding, and flexibility each of our students and their families has shown as we have navigated the ever-changing landscape of this year, and I want to thank you all for the open and honest communication that we have been able to stay engaged in to try to find the best way forward together. As we see case numbers continue to steadily rise and enter into what may well be the most challenging part of the school year, let’s keep our communication open and honest so that West County Strings can remain a safe place for students and their families to be!

Last but certainly not least, there has been one big silver lining to this year for both Kirby and myself. Most summers, Kirby and I are both engaged in teaching at half-a-dozen or so workshops, camps, and institutes. As the spring progressed into summer, we saw these engagements forced to close down one after the other. And while we were saddened by the loss of opportunity to see friends, colleagues, and students that we only get to reconnect with once every year, a new opportunity was presented to us that we haven’t had since West County Strings began, for which I am truly thankful – the opportunity to teach our own students each and every week of the summer! It was a truly special, memorable experience to work with so many of you every single week of the summer, and now to see that planting, watering, and tending leading to bearing fruit in your playing this fall!

As Thanksgiving Break draws to a conclusion, we’ll have updates on everything from our December 13 Zoom “Home Concert,” to All-Suburban and All-State auditions coming up at the start of 2021, and Missouri Federation of Music Clubs opportunities following shortly thereafter in the spring. But for now, we hope you all have a happy, healthy, restful, and rejuvenating Thanksgiving!

Fall ’20 Halloween Group Performance Recap & Upcoming Info

Hello WCS Students & Families!

As we lean fully into the second half of the Fall ’20 Semester, it’s a time to both look back on what’s been wonderful so far this school year, and to look ahead at what great opportunities are on the horizon! 

Halloween Group Performance & Party

Thank you to everyone who came out and joined us for this year’s annual Halloween Group Performance & Party!  We were fortunate to completely dodge the rain and had the encouragement of the light and warmth of a campfire to keep us company.  It was wonderful to hear how much better Fiocco Allegro, and so many other pieces, sounded after a semester’s group classes, even with cold fingers!  And I’m so thankful that students who had consistently been attending group throughout the semester were able to punctuate this semester’s classes with a memorable evening. 

So, group classes for the Fall ’20 Semester are now concluded, and groups will be on hiatus until resuming in the Spring ’20 Semester.  Our original plan, when heading into the school year, was to find another location to hold groups outside from March – May.  However, with churches, community centers, and the like increasingly reopening to the public, we’re certainly going to be exploring the possibility of returning to groups indoors, whether at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd once again, or somewhere else.  We’ll keep you posted!   

December Zoom “Home Concert

With groups now concluded, it’s time now more than ever to focus on our solo repertoire, for things like All-Suburban and All-State orchestra auditions, as well as our December Zoom “Home Concert.”  Since the October solo recital date conflicted with other activities for so many students, and because generally everyone seems to have enjoyed having the opportunity to perform in MayJuneJuly, and again in October, we’re going to add another solo performance opportunity to the calendar on Sunday, December 13.

In all likelihood, we’ll hold performances at 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. once again, although that isn’t set in stone yet at this point.  And since it’s so close to the holidays, it’ll be a great time to share some holiday music and merriment in addition to the normal classical repertoire!  Details will be forthcoming as the date draws nearer.  

Missouri Federation of Music Clubs “Virtuoso Club” 

This past week, I registered our program once again for the Missouri Federation of Music Clubs through which many of you have participated in the “Spring Festival” judging, and quite a few have competed in the Summer Camp Scholarship Competition and Music Major Scholarship Competition (congratulations once again to last year’s Camp Scholarship Competition winners, and well-wishes to our Music Major Scholarship winner from 2019, Wesley, who now studies at the UMKC Conservatory!).  

These events serve as very concrete goals for students to work towards, and give students the opportunity to grow and stretch themselves by participating in something challenging that still fits the West County Strings mantra of being warm and nurturing, with every event judged by fellow music educators.  The “bulletin” for 2020-2024 just arrived yesterday, which will allow us to see what repertoire each of us could work on preparing for our appropriate “class” (level) for next spring’s events! 

I think that about covers it for today.  KIrby and I look forward to seeing you all in your next lesson, and to continuing to learn, grow, and develop with you all as this school year marches on! 

Fall ’20 Play-In & “Icy Pop Social!”

Hello WCS Students & Families!

We’re looking forward to kicking off our group classes for the ’20-’21 school year with our annual “Play-In & Ice Cream Social.”  This event is for WCS students of all ages and levels and their families!  Here’s what you need to know:

Date: Tuesday, August 25
Time: 6:00-7:00 p.m.
Location: WCS students & families, check your emails!


In order to keep our Play-In safe this year, we’ll be planning to hold it outdoors with students and their families well over 6′ apart.  So, you might also want to bring:

camping chairs / a picnic blanket
 plenty of water
bug spray
masks for tuning time,
in case you need to use the restroom,
or want to spend extended time catching up
with friends or another family

Kirby and I will be providing icy pops instead of ice cream this year, so we can serve them individually 😊


And finally, no Play-In could be complete without repertoire, so here’s a list of pieces to be brushing up on between now and next Tuesday!

Mozart Minuet
Rameau Gavotte
La Folia
Moto Perpetuo (vla)
Country Dance
Vivaldi A Minor, 1st mov.
Gavotte in g minor (vla & vln)
Minuet in G (vla & vln)
Hunters’ Chorus (vla & vln)
Chorus from Judas Maccabaeus
Minuet 2
Bohemian Folk Song (vla)
Perpetual Motion
May Song
Song of the Wind
Lightly Row
French Folk Song (vla & vln)
Twinkle Theme & Variations

Happy practicing, and we’ll see you next week! 🎻

Foundational Principle #9: Listen to Superior Models

If you’ve been around West County Strings for any length of time – or even if I’ve only taught you at an Institute for a week, in a group class at a workshop, or even in a 15-20 master class – you’ve likely heard me talk about the irreplaceable value and importance of listening frequently and consistently to quality recordings of the pieces you are working on, have worked on, and will work on in the future.  Here’s roughly what I usually say:

“Listening to your recordings is the number one easiest and most surefire way to make progress on your musical instrument.  And yet, it’s also the number one thing that students and their families do not do nearly enough of.

How does listening to a recording help you make such incredible strides in progress, you say?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  When you listen to a piece, at the very least you get a sense of:

  • The piece’s tempo (speed)
  • The piece’s style (serious, playful, sombre, lighthearted, etc.)
  • The piece’s rhythms
  • The piece’s pitches
  • The piece’s articulations (staccato, legato, etc.)
  • the piece’s structure (do sections repeat, etc.)

And so much more.  The gist of the matter is that when you’ve listened to a piece sufficiently before you come to your lesson, we’re working on how to play something that you already subconsciously know to a great degree.  We’re not working on what to play and how to play it.  That makes lessons incredibly more productive, and over the course of weeks, and months, and years, can lead to graduating all the way through the Suzuki repertoire instead of getting stuck somewhere along the way.

I have to be honest: sometimes I can’t imagine why students and their families wouldn’t listen to their Suzuki CDs or whatever other recordings correspond to the repertoire they’re currently working on.  I was fortunate that my mom kept cassette tapes of all the Suzuki Violin Books interspersed between the car and my bedside radio, so we listened to them on the way to and from school, to and from sports practices, and while we were running errands around town, and I also often fell asleep listening to them, as well.

It’s never been easier than it is today to get ahold of the Suzuki CDs.  Between sharmusic.com, Amazon.com, iTunes, a plethora of local music stores, you can have your hands on a copy in as little as a few minutes.  And the quality of the recordings has never been higher.  Just this year, the Suzuki Association announced the release of new recordings featuring Hillary Hahn – one of the most impeccable violinists to grace the music world today, if not ever.

So, that would be one of my pleas:  Please, please, do not go to YouTube and listen to some random individual play the Suzuki repertoire.  You’re not guaranteed that they’re playing an accurate tempo, if they’re playing with the correct articulations, if they’re playing the dynamics marked in the music, if they’re playing with perfect intonation, or if they’re playing with beautiful tone.  And if you’re watching a video, you can add to that that you can’t be sure that they’re demonstrating good technique.  Just please, please don’t turn to YouTube as a substitute for quality recordings.

If you’re working on repertoire supplemental to the Suzuki repertoire, or after the Suzuki repertoire, it’s also never been easier to get your hands on quality recordings.  When I was learning concertos back in high school, I would drive from Illinois to one or two music shops in downtown St. Louis in hopes of turning up good recordings of the concertos I was working on.  Nowadays, you can pull up Spotify and literally have the very highest-quality recordings at your fingertips for free!  What a time to live in!

Now, I asked a rhetorical question earlier (“Why wouldn’t students and their families listen to the Suzuki CDs?”) and I know that there are some legitimate answers to that question.  The most obvious and frequent one is that children would simply rather listen to something else in the car, around the house, in their headphones, or before bed than their violin or viola music.  And I don’t want to deny that this can be a tough bridge to cross.  However, I think that if we slowly but steadily create a culture in our homes that listening to violin and viola music is something we do a bit of every day in this family, just like practicing, then it can be accomplished.  And trust me: the benefits far outweigh the struggle.

So, as we head into a new school year, I hope it will be one in which every single one of our students and their families listen to their recordings more than ever before!  In fact, let’s aim to be a community that all listens to their recordings every day!

Summer ’20 Week 12: Get Ready to Delve!

intransitive verb
2a: to make a careful or detailed search for information
2b: to examine a subject in detail

At the beginning of each school year, Kirby and I set goals with and for each of our students, which we refer back to week by week to keep us on track, and update each semester, or sooner if things are progressing faster than expected.  So, the first lesson of each school year usually involves some time spent asking the question of students, “What goal(s) do you have for yourself this year?” of parents, “What goals do you have for your child this year?” and of ourselves, “What goals do we have for this particular student (and their practice parent) this year?”

We will certainly spend some time in each of the first few weeks of the ’20-’21 school year reflecting on those questions together and honing in on the best possible answers, but I think it’s all the better if we start contemplating how we would answer those questions now, so that we come to the school year with a relatively clear picture of what we hope to accomplish in it and can get right to work making those goals a reality.  Here’s some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Maybe you know that your posture hasn’t been up to snuff – maybe it’s even causing you tension or pain in your playing – and it’s something that we need to solve.  You know that you’ll need to focus on it in everything you do from scales, to review, to new and preview pieces, and especially playing in orchestra.  But you’re willing to take it on!
  • Maybe you know that although you’ve been able to keep learning pieces, your bow hold isn’t as balanced as it should be – maybe specifically your thumb doesn’t stay bent, your pinky doesn’t stay curved, or your middle and ring finger don’t “hug” the frog very well all the time.  Once again, you know that this’ll take focus all the time while you’re practicing to improve, but you want to make it happen and are willing to work on it!
  • Maybe even though we’ve been touching on review every week in lessons, you really haven’t kept your review pieces up to the level you should and you’d like to renew your focus on it and make review and solid, well-rounded repertoire a strong point of your playing.
  • Maybe one of the core techniques that your repertoire demands hasn’t been progressing to the degree you’d like, and you know that improving the fundamentals of your shifting or your vibrato is an aspect of your playing that you’d really like to focus on this year.  It’ll mean making sure that our lesson time and your practice time are both structured to prioritize them, but that’s something you’re willing to do to see improvement.
  • Maybe practice time itself is a category in which like to set a new goal to reach or a higher standard to hold yourself to – whether in the frequency, the quality, or the volume of your practice.  All of these would require a significant commitment of your time and energy on a daily basis, but are certainly worthy goals to pursue!

One thing that I’ve noticed this summer is that because we’ve had the opportunity to see almost all of our students with greater regularity than most summers, Kirby and I are much more attuned to exactly where each student is and exactly what they need to take the very next step in their playing, and then the step after that.  Oftentimes, if we’ve been away or students have been away for large parts of the summer, there’s a bit of a re-acclamation that has to take place in the first few weeks of a new school year, but this year that won’t be the case.  This year, more than ever, we’re ready to hit the ground running and be laser-focused right from Week 1, and we’re looking forward to it!

So, be thinking about your goals for yourself, because we’re thinking of ours for you!

Reminder: ’20-’21 Registration Due August 15!

Hello WCS Families!

The end of summer is flying by and the start of the school year is rapidly approaching!  We’re looking forward to seeing you all for our ’20-’21 school year, which will run from August 24, 2020 – May 29, 2021.  Registration for the school year is due by August 15th, so this is the last week to sign up! 

We’re planning on starting the year with private lessons on Zoom, but we hope to be able to transition back to in person lessons just as soon as possible when we see a decline in COVID-19 cases in St. Louis County specifically, and are able to asses how schools reopening affects the student body, teachers, and the population at large. We’re thankful that Zoom lessons have been working so well for so many students, but if your child isn’t one of them please contact your teacher as soon as possible to discuss alternatives.

We’re also planning to start the year with outdoor in person group classes on Tuesday evenings, as weather allows.  Group is so vital for retaining review repertoire, developing artistic, expressive playing of pieces, and building the ensemble skills that allow students to engage and succeed in a wide variety of musical endeavors.  Plus, small class sizes in an outdoor space will allow us to have students socially engage in a time that they need it more than ever!

Due to registration being pushed back 15 days this year, we have a quicker turnaround time before the start of the school year than ever before.  If we receive everyone’s registrations by the end of registration, we’re generally able to create a schedule that comes very, very close to giving everyone one of their preferred times.  However, if we receive your registration after August 15th, we may have already assigned all of your preferred times to other families – and we don’t want that to happen!

As always, let us know if you have any questions, and we look forward to hearing from you soon!