Tag Archives: Suzuki

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!

’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

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!

Reminder: Summer ’21 Registration Due April 30!

Hello Everyone!

The month of April is absolutely flying by, as we prepare for all of our end-of-the-school-year festivities. In fact, it’s hard to believe that the month is already half over! So, Kirby and I just wanted to extend a quick reminder that registration for the Summer ’21 Semester is due by Friday, April 30, so that we can put all of your lesson time requests together into a schedule that works for everyone, send it out to everyone, and work out all the kinks before the Summer ’21 Semester begins.

As always, please let us know if you have any questions as you go through registration. We so look forward to the opportunity to continue working with you all this summer and building on everything we’ve done together this school year, and to welcoming new members into our music community, as well!

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

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!