Opening day at the Colorado Suzuki Institute

Monday: M wakes up cruelly early — 5:30 am Colorado time. (I know, for some families this is not unusual. But we’re blessed with a good sleeper.) I let her watch some Nickelodeon while I check email, etc.

After an expensive but satisfying breakfast at the hotel buffet (make your own waffles!), we check out the surroundings. It’s a nice walk from our hotel, through the woods, up to the “village” of Beaver Creek — a complex of hotels and stores that sell everything from absurd Western-themed artwork, to furs, to jewelry, to $6 gelato (delicious!).

M and I stop by the institute to check in and pick up our tote bag and schedule. M is excited to learn that she got into the bass “enrichment” activity, her top choice. Registration goes smoothly.

The kinks come later, and there were four:

  1. My map of class locations wasn’t accurate.
  2. A promised tour of classroom locations, scheduled for 2:15, inexplicably did not happen. This left me on my own to find the classrooms and to figure out the mistake on my map (enabling me, later, to help another parent whose map included the same error).
  3. During the institute welcoming talk, someone had the terrible idea of holding an impromptu auction for a CD by the Preucil family to raise funds for scholarships. The spent ten minutes trying to get audience members to bid on something no one really wanted, after we had been sitting for over a half an hour later. Note to organizers: do not hold unannounced auctions for worthless items when a large portion of your audience is in elementary school. Just when I was about to hand up a note saying, “Cut this crap out,” the cut the crap out.
  4. The guitar “play in” took place in an incredibly crowded meeting room in one of the hotels, and the leader (a good teacher and nice man, despite what I’m about to say) played way too many advanced songs for the group. The younger kids, including mine, were forced to sit through song after song that they did not know and could not even play a simple accompaniment to. The teacher said up front that the guitars don’t do a traditional play-in (where you start with advanced pieces and just work your way down, adding kids as you go). They should.

The other thing I noticed has nothing to do with the institute per se: there are a shocking number of kids here whose technique is so bad you can scarcely call them guitarists, yet they are butchering their way through songs in Book 2 and Book 3.

I probably shouldn’t be surprised; it’s the same thing I saw at the Minnesota Suzuki graduations. But I am surprised. I would think that people willing to spend the time and money to come here would also be people committed enough to the Suzuki method to have developed minimally competent technique. I was wrong.

The other notable feature of the play-in: A parent let her 18-month old toddler wander across the room, through the guitarists, not once, but twice. After the second time, I went out in the hall to ride herd on the kid, thinking that her mother must not know what’s going on. The kid tries to go in the other door for a third circle, and I block her way. She starts whimpering, and reaching for the woman standing behind me, in the doorway. It’s the kid’s mother. She’s been standing there, watching her kid stroll through the group, doing nothing. I say, “Could you keep your daughter from walking through the group?” “Sure,” she says.

As luck would have it, her 7- or 8-year-old son ends up in M’s group class and master class. But that’s a story for another day.

As for practice today, I worked on Rocky Mountain Twinkle with M in the afternoon and she was very cooperative. And then, of course, the guitarists didn’t play it at the play-in. Because guitarists are different.

One moment of the play-in was tender for me. After most of the kids had set up, M turned out to be behind some other kids, so the leader (who taught M’s master class last year at a different institute) asked if she’d like to move and sit up front. “My dad put me here,” she said. Something about that melted me — that she respected me enough to think that if I put her somewhere, it was where she should sit. Naturally, I helped her move.

Finally, I was surprised that M didn’t try to play along when they got to With Steady Hands. She knows it. When I mentioned it later, she said she just didn’t feel like she knew it well enough. Which tells me her confidence still needs building.

2 thoughts on “Opening day at the Colorado Suzuki Institute”

  1. I know it’s a year later, but I just read your comments about your institute experience. I hope the following days of the institute were better. Do you have any thoughts on a different institute? If I am going to put out the $ for an institute, I want the experience to be excellent. We attended the Suzuki Institute at Stevens Point this past year. There were only two guitar players (who were siblings of violinists) and my son was one of them. They gave him a modified program and I was thankful that they didn’t cancel it altogether. The violin program was absolutely amazing! I want to seek out a different guitar program for summer 2013. Do you have any suggestions? I was thinking about the one at the MacPhail Center in Minneapolis or the one in Ann Arbor which is moving to Blue Lake Music Camp for 2013. Thank you for your thoughtful posts!

    Karyn Harrelson

    1. Hi Karyn,

      Good question. It’s lonely being a Suzuki guitar parent, floating in a sea of pianos and strings (though I think the harps are lonelier!). I did end up having an okay experience in Colorado. In retrospect, it was a lovely vacation, and a nice but not spectacular musical experience. But it’s very expensive. If money were no object, we’d think about going back; unfortunately, money is an object.

      As between MacPhail and Ann Arbor, my sense is that Ann Arbor is likely to be the better of the two. Mary Lou Roberts (the main teacher there) has a fantastic reputation, and I think they get a good number of kids. I’m thinking about going myself next year. It’s hard to know how MacPhail will be. We’ve gone two years (this year and three years ago). David Madsen was the master teacher each year, and he is terrific. But I was very unhappy with the group component of the program this year (not taught by Madsen), and if they don’t change it next year, I will certainly not go. So I would say that if you’re thinking about MacPhail, you need to know specifically who is teaching what and what the schedule looks like.

      I’m afraid that’s all I know. From the Suzuki-guitar Facebook page, it seems like they get a fair number of guitars at the Greater Pittsburgh Suzuki Institute, and the lead teacher last year, Andrea Cannon, is extremely skilled. So if geographically that makes any sense for you, it may also be worth considering. Even further afield, the Austin, Texas Suzuki Institute looks to have a strong guitar faculty.

      Good luck, and thanks for reading!

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