Thanksgiving Update

Hello Everyone!

This upcoming week (November 20-25) is Thanksgiving Break at West County Strings.  As such, there will be NO lessons or group class – we hope you enjoy the week off and all have a chance to spend time with friends and family (but don’t forget to still find some time to practice!).

Private lessons will resume again the week of November 27, however there will be NO group classes for the remainder of the semester.  Groups will resume again in the spring semester on Tuesday, January 9.  Thank you so much to all of you who made Tuesday night groups a regular part of your schedule this fall semester.  They were truly a special experience, and we look forward to seeing you all again on Tuesdays in the spring.  To cap off the fall’s classes, we’ve (finally) uploaded our pictures from the Halloween Group Performance & Party (see below).

After break, the next big event coming up are our Fall Solo Recitals on the afternoon of Sunday, December 10.  We’ll have three recitals that afternoon – 2:30, 3:45, and 5:00 p.m.  As in recent years, this upcoming Fall Recital will be held at the KREW House of Chesterfield Presbyterian Church.  Piano rehearsals will be held at our house (1199 Fieldhurst Dr.) on Tuesday, December 5 from 4-10 p.m.  If you are in Book 4 or above, you need to sign up for a piano rehearsal (find the sign-up sheet here)!  Please consult your teacher if you have any questions about signing up.

Happy Thanksgiving!



Studio Update – October 2017

Hello Everyone!

I hope you are enjoying the colors, cooler air, and sunny days and grey days alike as we transition into fall.  Picking up my violin in the morning and going through warm ups reminded me of my days in college walking across campus to the music building on cold fall and winter mornings and getting started on the day’s practice.

When I was a student, I never understood why teachers seemed frustrated if I didn’t practice.  (“Yes, there were plenty of times over the years that I didn’t practice as much as I should’ve, believe it or not!”)  It always seemed to me that their job was essentially the same whether I practiced or not, and I didn’t really see the big deal.  As a teacher, however, I can now completely understand their frustration – it’s really gratifying to see students making progress and the work that’s put in during weekly lessons and home practice taking root and leading to growth, and it’s equally disappointing when it seems like things aren’t really moving forward.

I don’t think that this frustration is unique to teachers, though.  I think students and their families feel the frustration in their own ways, too.  “Success breeds success,” and one of the reasons for that, I think, is that overcoming challenges, making progress, and developing new abilities are a reward in and of themselves.  Believe it or not, it actually feels good to practice consistently!  Similarly, it feels really bad to consistently fail to practice.  Students feel at least some small sense of shame at failing to complete their work, and over time the build up of work procrastinated starts to feel so overwhelming that we may wonder, “Why even try?”

The reason I bring this up is that the school year is in full swing.  Students’ work loads and extracurricular activity schedules are overflowing, and while on the whole I am still really happy with a lot of the progress I see every week, I’m also seeing an uptick in the number of lessons every week that begin with, “So… I wasn’t able to practice this,” or some similar variation.

Dr. Suzuki was famous for saying things like, “Only practice on the days you eat.”  I used to think that those types of sayings were extremely hyperbolic and unreasonable.  The longer I’m at this, though, the more I’ve come to realize that it’s almost impossible to actually be completely unable to practice on a given day.  In 99.9% of cases, it’s a matter of choice, not a matter of impossibility.  The more you get in the habit of making the choice that will lead to growth, the easier it gets to make that choice, and the less you’ll want to let yourself down.

These thoughts come just as we’re starting to head into performance season.  Don’t forget, next Tuesday (October 24 from 6:00-7:30 p.m.) is our Halloween Group Performance & Party.  Make sure to wear your favorite costume and join us for an evening of performance, snacks, and games.  And though it might seem a long way off, there’s actually not that many weeks of lessons between now and our Fall Solo Recitals, which will be held on December 10.

Thanks, and we’ll see you in lessons this week!

Halloween Performance & Party

Every fall, we look forward to our Halloween Group Class Performance and the Party that follows.  Here’s what you need to know for this year’s installment:

Who: Any and all of Mr. Brad and Ms. Kirby’s students.
What: An informal performance of selected Suzuki repertoire and other supplemental pieces, followed by snacks and games.
Where: the Parish Hall at Good Shepherd Church, 1166 S. Mason Rd., Town & Country, MO 63131.
When: Tuesday, October 24, 6:00-7:30 p.m.
How: Wear a costume, invite your friends and family, and sign up to help set up, tear down, or bring treats.

Here is the repertoire list that we will be focusing on in group classes for the next few weeks to prepare for the performance:

Sadness, B. Tours
Fugue in Two Parts, C. Dancla
Coleraine (Irish Jig)

Chicken on a Fencepost Variations (A, C, E)
Paw Paw Patch
Old Brass Wagon

Seitz 2:III
Gavotte in g minor (w/ violas)
Old Joe Clark
Witches’ Dance

Handel Bourree (w/ duet)
Chorus from
Judas Maccabaeus (w/ duet)
French Folk Song (w/ duet)

Violins & Violas
Etude (w/ viola duet)
Rhody Variations
Song of the Wind
Twinkle Theme & Variations (A, C, Theme)


Broad Horizons: The Art of the Fugue

Tonight in group class, the Performance Ensemble got to spend some time working on a fugue – a particular musical form in which a theme is stated in one voice and then restated in other voices, inverted (played upside down), performed in retrograde (backwards), and given any number of other treatments.  To better understand this, we listened to a bit of The Art of the Fugue, by J.S. Bach.

The Art of the Fugue is one of the very highest examples of musical genius and compositional mastery in all of the classical repertoire, and as such is something every aspiring musician should experience.  I’ve provided two recordings here – one which follows the musical score, and highlights the theme as it’s stated and restated throughout the piece; and the other of the legendary Glenn Gould performing the piece, which is nothing less than a wonder to behold.

Studio Update – September 2017

When I was in junior high, I played on our schools 6th, 7th, and 8th grade basketball teams.  Our practices were full of layups, free throws, defensive drills, and sprints, and on game days we were required to wear dress pants, a dress shirt, and a tie to school and to the game.  The members of the opposing team (who would usually be wearing sweatpants, sweatshirts, and the like) would often snicker when we showed up in our dress clothes, but I remember feeling an immense sense of pride in what we did – we were a team, we worked hard on doing the little things right, and we took our craft seriously.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those game days and dress clothes as this school year gets rolling along.  As the business of school picks up, I notice more instances of practice charts being misplaced, books being forgotten on the stand at home, and practice assignments not receiving the attention they deserve during the week.  My thought on these matters is this – take your craft seriously, work hard on doing the little things right, and take pride in doing so.  There’s a connection between sloppy preparation (even in things as little as keeping track of your practice chart) and a sloppy approach to playing.  So start with the little things.  Organize your materials, organize your mind, and we’ll work on increasingly organizing your technique and playing.

I’ve also been surprised how many students have reported a lot of illness at school already this year.  It seems early in the year for people to be coming down sick!  But, as part of respecting your teachers and your fellow students please, please do not come to your lessons sick.  Everything we do is done in close quarters with a lot of hands-on correction, so it is imperative to keep illness out of the studio as much as possible.  Thank you for your courtesy on this matter.

And finally, we have been missing many of you at group classes thus far this school year! I know that the responsibilities and requirements of school are often very time-consuming, especially for junior high and even more for high school students.  However, group classes are a very necessary supplement to your private lessons as part of your full musical development.  Please make every effort to attend your respective classes!

See you in lessons this week!

– Brad


Food for Thought: Learning from Dorothy DeLay

Dorothy Dolay is someone who I try to emulate in my teaching, but her philosophy and approach towards teaching is also very relevant in the way we approach teaching and learning in all walks of life – including parenting.

At our parent night this past Tuesday, we discussed holding high expectations that are clearly communicated and consistently reinforced.  The question then becomes: how are we going to pursue achieving those expectations?  Will we yell, scream, demand, and offer ultimatums?  I’ve had music teachers who’ve done that.  My playing a lot under them, but it’s taken me decades to overcome the negative emotional impact of those lessons.  Or will we lead, support, challenge, and strengthen?  Later in life, I’ve had experiences with teachers every bit as excellent but much more nurturing in their approach.  And guess what?  I’ve learned even more, and grown far more in self-confidence and character in the process.

So, check out this article from the perspective of Itzhak Perlman on his teacher Dorothy Delay.  It’s definitely food for thought.