613: Summer 2021 News

The SAO Board Representative for 613 is Laura Nerenberg. This is Laura’s last newsletter in her term as area representative. If you’re interested in this role, please email Claire at info@suzukiontario.org.

News from Rideau Falls Violins: Violin & Improvisation Studio of Laura Nerenberg

Beauty Persists Despite a Challenging Year

As the end of another academic year approaches, my calendar is filled with last lessons/make-up before the summer and two moving Zoom-based performances:

Group-Improvisation-Newfoundland Kitchen Party

On May 16, 2021, I hosted the most ambitious Zoom event of my career. Since last May, I’ve worked with teachers and students all over the world in the improvisation realm over Zoom. Organizing and running this event for my own students used all the new skills I’ve been cultivating since the beginning of the pandemic 14 months ago and forced me to learn new ones!

Students were split into smaller groups, and performed Suzuki repertoire and fiddle tunes in a tag-team manner, the youngest ones improvised in the pentatonic scale, while older students played soulful modal solos over a drone as part of a Medieval-inspired performance piece. Finally, the oldest students improvised along with music of Malian singer-songwriter Habib Koité, which got everyone’s toes tapping. While the official ending of the concert was a warm and beautiful Twinkle Theme, we did find time to teach the audience to dance along with us to Bile ’em Cabbage Down, as taught to my students and me at the I Heart Violin workshop back in February. It was a huge challenge for this writer (ahem) to explain and demonstrate a dance, as well as play the violin! (Not to mention spotlight the various student leaders and soloists throughout the concert!)

A Moving Solo Recital

I rarely make it through a student recital without shedding a few tears. Sometimes it’s because students are leaving for university; sometimes, it’s the power of a child’s first Twinkle. On Sunday, May 30, my eyes welled up constantly, as I witnessed one beautiful, committed, musical performance after another. Some students played in duet with a parent or sibling, while others played concerto movements a capella. And while meeting over Zoom is less than ideal, it also meant that a record number of grateful family members could tune in from other parts of Canada.

We started as usual with a quiet students-only meditation. Audience members made liberal use of the chat feature to share their congratulations. At the end of the concert, one student was treated to a raucous, if slightly out of sync, Happy Birthday!

New this year was the option for students to add an improvisation or composition to their chosen repertoire piece. One student played her composition Dust and Rhinos along with me. It was a tribute to the last two remaining Northern White Rhinos. Others played the Blues, or improvised freely in various keys and modes. It was a beautiful and creative addition to the recital.

While my fingers are tightly crossed for in-person performances only going forward, it’s good to know that for my students, violin life was able to continue uninterrupted — except when I tried to talk while muted… !

A post-recital photo of some of Laura's students
A post-recital photo of some of Laura’s students

Most years since 2003, I’ve hosted a violin party in a local park to celebrate the transition from Spring to Summer. For a second straight year, the Suzuki Sundae has been canceled. However, I’m hopeful that it can be rescheduled for the fall, before the weather gets too frosty to play violins outdoors and enjoy some ice cream.

This is my final area report as 613 East Area Rep on the Board of the SAO. It has been an honour to represent the wonderful teachers in this region and I look forward to submitting contributions to the newsletter in my capacity as a community member.

I recently began teaching my third round of the Improvisation Teacher Intensive online course. While I’m only teaching it once this summer, I will be offering some free training later in the summer. You can learn more by getting in touch with me: junezaria@gmail.com

I hope to bump into you soon – whether in person, or virtually.

– Laura Nerenberg, Rideau Falls Violins

Leaving a Legacy Behind Even During a Pandemic

by Marie Kusters, director of Mieke Musike Music Studio in Ottawa

I am retiring from regular violin teaching at the end of June after 34 years of teaching. It has been a long and rewarding road full of joys, challenges, and growth. I never could have imagined that my last year of teaching would require me to learn so many new skills, in order to master online teaching. The vibrant Suzuki community was there to support me and it was wonderful to see how we all managed to help each other out. I will be having a final group concert with my students on Zoom on June 6 with many recorded compilations of Suzuki favourites that my husband Doug is painstakingly putting together. Not the final concert I had envisioned, but a meaningful representation and celebration of the students’ progress this year.

My decision to retire was not an easy one, but my need to focus on my overall health, my family commitments, and my wish to travel the world while I still can have been a factor.

I am so happy to leave a legacy behind. My former student, Megan Graham, has been teaching alongside me now for many years. Her students have been a part of my group lesson and recital program. She will be taking on most of my private students next year and I will continue to support her as she transitions to the role of director. I plan to continue teaching some group classes and helping out with recitals and concerts.

My husband, Doug Murphy, will continue to teach Suzuki bass, his second career, as he just loves it. My daughter, Julie Murphy, is also teaching a few Suzuki violin students as well as looking after her young family. 

Dr. Suzuki emphasized the need to leave a Legacy behind, and I am so proud to be able to do so, and to continue to act as a mentor. I could never just close the door on all that Suzuki teaching has done for the many families I have touched, for my family and for myself. I have been a Suzuki student, a Suzuki parent, a Suzuki teacher, an Institute teacher in Newfoundland, Quebec, and Ontario, a mentor to new educators, a 613 SAO rep, a SAO conference organizer, and a workshop/exchange organizer with Jane Plewman over many years.

I want to thank all the teacher trainers that have helped me be the best teacher I can be: Helen Brunner, Ed Kreitman, Linda Case, Alice Joy Lewis, Karen Kimmett, and Paule Barsalou, as well as the many Institute teachers and Conference presenters that have influenced me over the years. My journey is changing, but it has not come to an end. 

“Where love is deep, much can be accomplished!”

– Marie Kusters, Mieke Musike Music Studio