519 West: Spring 2021 News

The SAO Board Representative for 519 West was Rebecca Ashworth, but now that she is interim secretary, Andrea Cook will be the 519 Area Rep. You can send her your news at andreacook361@gmail.com.

Environment: The Senses

This article is written by Amy Barten and comes from her blog.

Our environment plays such an integral role in how and what we learn. Not only are the models in our lives important, but our visual surroundings, what we are listening too, how our environment feels, smells and tastes all play a role. Although many of these I am presenting as aids to enhance learning the violin, they can be applied to learning anything.


An area free of distractions and clutter is ideal. If this isn’t possible, having a focal point like a stand, picture or sign could work. Fill the room you are learning in with light and space. Make it functional and convenient with books and pencils, your instrument already unpacked (maybe on a stand or hook), rosin and a tuner close by . . . Make everything you can convenient and right at your finger tips so there are no excuses. When our learning environment is visually pleasing, inviting and practically set up, it sets the stage for a productive practice.


What we are listening to on a regular basis is vital to our learning. Take a few moments to create playlists of the repertoire you are learning, your review pieces or maybe pieces you want to learn. Set timers to remind yourself to turn your music on or until you’ve done it enough times you’ve created the habit. Try active listening of your new pieces and follow along with your music as you listen. Watch videos of performers you admire!


How things feel when we are learning is also important. If our clothes are uncomfortable or we feel cramped in the room or maybe we are hungry or thirsty or tired or full of energy. These can all affect our learning process. Reflecting on how we feel inside and out before practice can make a huge difference in our productivity.


Although taste and smell have less to do with our practice success, definitely how we are nourishing ourselves benefits how we learn. If we aren’t eating or drinking enough good things, this can mess with our mind and how we feel physically. Same with smell. Trying to practice in a smelly room can be. Make sure to have a drink of water and/or a light snack before you start. Figure out what tastes and smells affect your learning and what is right for you. 

There are so many little things we can do to make our environment motivating and comfortable for learning. Many of these ideas are fairly simple and probably well known, and yet we don’t always take the time to apply them to our lives. If something isn’t working, take a moment to identify it, analyze it, and come up with a plan to make practicing more convenient for you so you are making the most out of your time. Start small and set your environment up for success!

Sunnyside Strings Update

Sunnyside Strings is the studio of Michèle Dumoulin and Nicholas Penny, and group lessons also including the students of Ruth Wiebe. This article was written by Michèle Dumoulin.

One year ago, nearly thirty Sunnyside Strings students were preparing for an exciting performance of Vincent Ho’s Earthbeat with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra. Months of preparation went into learning the music, refining the ensemble, reaching a tempo faster than some of the students had thought possible, and learning the “choreography” of walking through the concert hall while playing to surround the audience. Then, in an instant, between the official rehearsal in the hall and the concert night, the world came to a standstill as we all experienced the beginning of the pandemic, and a spark of musical achievement was extinguished for this group of young violinists. The concert was performed to an empty hall, without the children.

Sunnyside Play-In 2019

Thus began our year of virtual music-making. Looking back, not being very tech-savvy, I’m not sure why I wasn’t more terrified at the thought of shifting our entire studio online, but before we knew it, it was operating quite normally. With around 35 students from over twenty different schools around the region, fully virtual lessons remain non-negotiable for us so far. After some initial adjustments, we all figured out how to best set up and which devices give best results. Parents with no musical knowledge learned to tune small violins, and our pre-teens and teenagers stepped up to become much more self-reliant. Students show up on time, violins tuned, pencil on stand, ready to start and quite often, already warmed up. We have met many pets, and viewed some lovely Lego creations!

One surprising result for us was to see many of the students’ playing thrive in the spring. Whether it was the lack of other weekly activities, the boredom of not going to school, practising being the one normal activity to carry on, or starting online group classes in May, many of them continued to progress well, if not better. Since our annual large group concert in June was impossible, we opted for virtual solo recitals. After the internet woes we had experienced with some of the early lessons, we chose to live-stream pre-recorded recitals on YouTube. Students recorded solos at home, many on smart phones, sent them to us, and invited family and friends to attend virtually. The advantages of pre-recording: by the time anyone was satisfied with their recording, much practising was accomplished! Nobody’s performance was ruined by internet lag, and performers were able to sit back and enjoy the recital without the stress of having to play. It was such a success that we repeated the same format in December.

Our online group classes of five or six students at a time consist largely of playing solos and commenting on each other’s playing. It’s been interesting to see the progression of insight develop as the kids are learning to hear and describe phrasing, emotion, energy, tone colours. One of the best parts for me has been to see just how supportive they are of each other. Quite possibly, having to play solos for each other every two weeks has been the biggest motivational support. We’ve had review weeks, etude week, new pieces, some fiddle tunes and lots of Twinkles, but the consistent expectation and routine of having to perform regularly has been very beneficial. As an added extra, because the groups are so small, the students have gotten to know each other much better.

So here we are, one year in, without a clear end in sight quite yet. Everyone has eyestrain, more of the young ones have new glasses, but the music is still playing! Here’s to dreaming of a time when we can all play together again!

Sunnyside Play-In 2020