Teaching a new language
By Kris Leonhardt
STEVENS POINT – A UWSP program is working to teach youth a new language – the language of music – while developing talent in every child at a young age.
“The method started in Japan, post World War II. It sort of came out of the devastation of Japan,” explained UWSP Director of Suzuki Programs Ann Marie Novak.
“Dr. Suzuki – Shinichi Suzuki – was rehearsing with his quartet. And one day, he just stopped a rehearsal and he said, ‘you know, all Japanese children speak Japanese.’ And it occurred to him that music is another language. So, if a two-year-old can start picking up something as complex as Japanese, and then an American can speak English, which is also complex, there’s got to be something to the environment.”
Right then, the Suzuki Method of talent education was born.
“So, he basically looked at music as another language,” Novak added.
“So, we start with sound from the very beginning, from birth if possible, that you’re playing good music, and that is defined as classical music in our sphere. And then, so they hear it, they imitate, then they learn to speak the language – meaning they learn to play the instrument or sing. And then, last would be the reading and writing. Same as we do with our language.
“And his point was that if you immerse the child in a musical environment and it’s a nurturing environment, every child can learn.
“When I was growing up, you either had talent or you didn’t. That’s the way music teachers looked at it.
“And, with his ideas, every child has talent. It’s just whether it’s developed or not.”
The method requires parents to provide a nurturing environment, after going through their own educational process. Parents travel to the campus with their children once a month to work with institute teachers. They also get full immersion for two weeks during the summer. Instruction by “home teachers” is ongoing.
“We really value the in-person experience when you are dealing with a young child,” Novak stated.
Novak sees a mix of families coming through the program, welcoming youth “birth to 18.”
“We do offer some scholarships, so we try to not make it too exclusive,” Novak said.
“We have an early childhood education, where we have infants also in the class where they are learning sound, clap, bounces, sings. Again, it’s from as early as possible. They are just connecting with music, obviously not dealing with any instrument.”
The program features 35-50 instructors from all over the world, and current students come from 30 different states and three countries.
“This was the first institute outside of Japan, so we have a long history,” Novak said of the 51-year-old program.