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!

Spring Festival ’21 Recap

Hello WCS Students & Families!

Thank you so much to all the students who participated in weekly group classes this Spring Semester, and to all the parents, siblings, family members, and friends who made it possible for students to get to and from class every Tuesday evening. After a 2020 in which no one was able to do much of anything at all together, it was wonderful to get back to having group classes in person, and the positive effects were quickly and dramatically seen.

While the weather wasn’t kind to us when it came to group performances during the ’20-’21 school year, and we certainly look forward to hopefully getting back to our regular indoor performance spaces during the ’21-’22 school year, I don’t think I can ever recall the developmental value and musical benefit of group classes ever be more evident than during this Spring Semester.

When we first met again for group classes in person, it was immediately clear that students simply hadn’t been able to play together for a long time. It was more of a challenge that I can ever remember before for even relatively advanced students to play a relatively simple piece of review repertoire at a matching tempo, much less with matching bowings, dynamics, articulations, tone, and expression. By the end of the semester, however, each class at every level was playing very together with the group’s tempo, with exceptionally matching bowings, a wide range of dynamics carried out by the whole class, very matching articulations, and a much more blended tone and expressive color to each piece. In short, they all became very polished young musicians, appropriate to their different ages and levels. I was very proud of their hard work and the progress that resulted!

One other very exciting thing that I saw happen over the course of the semester was more shy, or timid students become more confident and bold, and many students become very poised leaders. Often, a student would lead the group while I played harmony and observed, and was very pleased to see that the leading student lead well, and the class respected their leadership and followed it well, too.

We are in the unique position of having had no graduating seniors this year – I can’t remember the last time that’s happened, if ever! – which means that we also have a unique and exciting opportunity for our groups to return largely intact next fall, with those ready to graduate up to the next class making those transitions. This means that we’ll really be able to build on the work we did this semester, with students already knowing each other and being familiar playing with each other. And given how exceptional the results were this Spring, I can’t wait to see what we’re able to do in the Fall!

Spring Festival ’21

Hello WCS Students & Families!

With our Spring ’21 Solo Recitals behind us, the next big thing we have to look forward to is our Spring Festival ’21. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Who: students who have been regularly participating in Tuesday-evening group classes throughout the semester.
  • What: a group performance in Suzuki “play-in” style, beginning with the most advanced repertoire and working down until we finish with everyone playing Twinkle.
  • Where: the Amphitheater at Schroeder Park, 359 Old Meramec Station Rd. Manchester, MO 63021
  • When: dress rehearsals from 5:15-6:15 p.m., with the concert at 6:30 p.m.
  • How: as the Amphitheater has lawn seating, this event will be weather-permitting, and will be B.Y.O.C. (bring your own chair!)

For dress rehearsals, students Book 4+ should please arrive at 5:00 to tune, and students Pre-Twinkle – Book 3 should arrive at 5:30. Attire should be semi-formal, but comfortable for outdoor weather. Please see the list below for the concert repertoire, which we’ll be focusing on polishing in group class this week!