The act of students returning to school is routine at this time of the year, but the Virtuso Suzuki Academy is anything but routine. The music school, which holds private lessons at their Mineola location and group classes in Garden City, kicked off its fall semester on Sept. 13, welcoming close to 100 families of students into its private music lessons. Founded in 1971, the academy was one of the early adapters of the Suzuki method of learning music, named after violinist Dr. Shinichi Suzuki. The method implores young students to learn music through memory and repetition, as they would a language.
“We try to relate playing music to experiences in life,” said Agnes Kwasniewska, one of the program directors. “There are patterns in music just like in math. The Suzuki method enhances memory, discipline and patience and helps our young students to understand as much as a young child can.”
Students range from as young as 2-years-old to adulthood. The school focuses on the instruments that comprise a chamber orchestra: violin, viola, cello, piano and, as of this semester, bass. In addition to individual lessons, one of the primary goals of the curriculum is to give students a hands-on experience of playing in an orchestra. That way the students gain an understanding of group dynamics in music.
“In an orchestra setting, sometimes you have to play more of a lead role, but other times you are supporting the other players,” said Kwasniewska. “It is a balance. We believe in well-rounded musicians and we go over concepts from many different angles.”
It is the balancing of individuality and collaboration that makes the Virtuoso Suzuki Academy such an enriching learning opportunity for students. But teaching is nothing without dedication and the students demonstrate that in abundance. About 75 percent of the students continue their lessons through the summer, in between the spring and fall semesters. Many graduates return to partake in group recitals. And one of Kwasniewska’s favorite moments is seeing the enthusiasm of young students and parents alike when the new students give their first group recital, a performance of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
“It’s a perfect first song for a kid because everyone knows it,” Kwasniewska said. “It’s the first benchmark when you can play that song well at different speeds. When everyone is together playing ‘Twinkle Twinkle,’ it’s hard not to have a tear in your eye.”
For the students, the first recital is an opportunity to demonstrate all that they’ve learned, from proper posture and technique to command over dynamics and tempo. But there is another vital aspect of music the kids learn that may be the most important.
“They learn discipline and respect for music, but they have a lot of fun too,” Kwasniewska said. “To us, playing music is a celebration, and we try to make it global.”
There is a definite unified, global feel to the idea of taking teachings that originated in Japan and applying them to the youth of Long Island. That sense of unity applies not only to the construction of the program, but to the students themselves.
“It’s like a family when you walk in here,” Kwasniewska said. “You’re part of this. To me, the power of seeing kids playing music together regardless of their age, their race or their height is simply amazing.”
To learn more about Virtuso Suzuki Academy, visit www.thevirtuososuzukiacademy.com.