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!

FA19 Newsletter, pg 1

FA19 Newsletter, pg 2

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

Spring ’19 Solo Recital Recap

Wow.  I’m actually taking breaks from typing to clap in the air as I think back about our students’ performances this past Sunday, and I have a big smile on my face.  Wow!

To all the students who performed: Bravo! You displayed wonderful technique, mature musicality, and great respect for one another’s performances.  You should be incredibly proud of yourselves!  Each semester’s recital keeps displaying a higher quality of playing year after year, and that shows the work each of you is putting in and the improvements you are all making!

To all the parents who attended: Thank you, thank you, thank you!  West County Strings couldn’t be what it is without your continual commitment of time and energy to your children’s musical education.

And to each and every family: Please know that Kirby and I find ourselves blown away by how fortunate we are to be able to work with such wonderful families.  It was wonderful to be able to spend time visiting with you and seeing your children eating, playing, and socializing with one another – just enjoying some well-deserved fun after putting in so much hard work for their performances!  And thank you so much for all your contributions to the potluck and help setting up and cleaning up.  You’re all wonderful people that we’re thankful for the opportunity to work with!

To anyone who wasn’t able to join us for this recital, and anyone who did play this past Sunday but would like more opportunities to perform, we hope you’ll join us at one of several home concerts hosted by studio families this summer!

If you didn’t manage to get any photos, here’s some we grabbed from the day:

Spring ’19 Solo Recital!

The end of the school year is fast approaching, and we want to send you into summer on a high note with our spring solo recital.  Your children have been working so hard to prepare for these performances over the past weeks and months, so here’s the details you need to know for the day.

The recital will be held on Sunday, May 19 at 2:00 p.m. at The Fulton School at St. Albans (123 Schoolhouse Rd, St. Albans, MO 63073).  We’re so thankful to The Fulton School for offering to share their wonderful space with us, and we’re looking forward to filling their Keeping Room with beautiful music, and enjoying the sights and sounds of nature all around.

Our plan is to hold one single, large recital as opposed to the three smaller recitals we usually hold, so that all of us can enjoy each other’s performances and then join all together for a potluck dinner afterward.  Kirby and I will be providing sandwiches and drinks, and we’re asking that each family bring a main dish or side dish to share with everyone.  Please sign up in the studio to let us know what dish you will be bringing!

Piano rehearsals will be held in our studio on Tuesday, May 14 beginning at 2:00 p.m.  If you are unsure whether your child needs a rehearsal, or how much rehearsal time you should sign them up for, please check with your teacher.  To sign up for a rehearsal time, please click here.

And finally, please remember that the dress code for our performances is “dress casual” (i.e. no jeans, t-shirts, tennis shoes, and the like).  A good guideline is khakis or dress slacks for boys with a polo or button down dress shirt and dress shoes, tie optional; and dress slacks or a skirt with a dress blouse or a semi-formal dress for girls.

We look forward to seeing you all on the 19th!

Summer ’19 Registration is Now Open!

It’s hard to believe that another school year is already nearing its completion.  At the same time, when we look back at how much our students have grown (both literally, in many cases, and in their abilities as musicians!) it’s clear that this has been a very full, productive, and memorable school year.

In fact, at the end of each school year Kirby and I find ourselves saying to one another that this most recent year has been our best – even better than all the great ones that came before it.  I believe that one contributing factor to that ever-increasing excellence is our commitment as teachers to be lifelong learns – students of both our instruments and of the art of teaching.  We hope, plan, and take the steps to be better teachers each day than the day before, each week than the week before, and each year than the year before.

Another huge part of the excellence of this past school year is the commitment of each and every one of the students that we work with and their families to invest their time and energy into their personal practice, development of musical habits, and the community of West County Strings.  Each year, I believe an environment is cultivated amongst the families that we work with that fosters growth, and for that I am beyond proud and grateful.

The next big thing on our horizon is the Spring ’19 Semester.  We don’t hold formal group classes over the summer like we do during the school year, because we know so many students and their families will be in and out of town.  However, we would love to see each and every one of you for private lessons as often as we can, and we hope to sprinkle in some ensemble learning opportunities throughout the summer, as well.

So, if you’re a returning student, Summer ’19 Registration and submit it to your teacher as soon as possible!  And if you’re a new family considering lessons at West County Strings, now is the perfect time to get in touch – come observe some lessons, schedule a trial lesson or two, get a feel for what we do here.  We’d love to have you join us for this summer and the school year ahead!