When 6-year-old Diego Andaluz first took an interest in music, it was because he wanted to play the guitar.
But his mother, Yadira Martinez, said after bringing him to children’s music classes, Diego’s interests turned in a different direction.
“He was asking me for a class in classical music,” she said.
So, Martinez enrolled him in a cello class. And now one and half years and one move later, Diego is still playing. Having come to the Eastside from the East Coast in late August, Martinez had specific requirements when it came to a new cello instructor for her son. One of those requirements was finding an instructor who taught using the Suzuki Method, which emphasizes heavily on parental involvement.
“We’re very lucky to find Miss Sylvan,” she said. “She’s very wonderful.”
“Miss Sylvan” is Sylvan Lumsden, 39, who runs Suzuki Strings with Amy Lillegard, 33. They offer cello lessons with Lumsden and violin and viola lessons with Lillegard for children as young as 3 up to teens and adults.
Both women attended the Hartt School of Music in West Hartford, Conn. — though at different times — and are “Suzuki kids” in their respective instruments. They both spent time as performing musicians before they turned to teaching full-time. Neither had planned this career path but Lillegard said there is more fulfillment in one class with a child than any performance. Lumsden, who began teaching just as a way to pay for college, feels the same way.
“After that first class (I taught), it was just apparent. It was just a fit,” she said. “I just really loved it. Working with the children is just really rewarding. (It) keeps you on your toes. It’s never boring.”
A NEED ON THE EASTSIDE
Lumsden grew up in western Washington and moved east to go to school. She taught cello in Connecticut for 10 years before deciding to move back home. Four years ago, she met Lillegard, who grew up in southwest Missouri and had come to teach violin and viola in Connecticut. Lillegard had been teaching throughout the Midwest before this. When Lillegard learned Lumsden wanted to start her own Suzuki school, Lillegard was ready to strike out on her own as well. After doing some research, the two decided to open their new business in Redmond because there was a need for Suzuki school on the Eastside. Lumsden said the only other Suzuki school in the immediate area is in Factoria. Lumsden and Lillegard’s school has been open for about three months.
What sets the Suzuki method apart from other teaching styles is the amount of parental involvement required. According to the Suzuki Strings of Redmond website (www.suzukistringsofredmond.com), the method was founded by a Japanese violinist by the name of Shinichi Suzuki. Parents attend lessons and take notes. At home, parents conduct practice based on their observations during the lesson and notes on what the teacher has assigned. The teacher, student and parent form what is called a Suzuki Triangle. With older students, the parent is not as involved and the triangle is no longer necessary.
“(The students) take their own notes,” Lumsden said.
Class fees include private lessons and group sessions. If a student is involved in the orchestra at their school, they are not required to attend the group sessions. Lillegard said they will work with individual families to adjust their fees in these cases.
Combined, they have a total of about 30 students, but Lumsden and Lillegard hope to expand to about 40 students each for a total of 80. While a good number of their students come from Redmond, they also serve students from Duvall, Kirkland, Bellevue and Woodinville. Since they opened, Suzuki Strings has had a few recitals and an open house to educate people on the Suzuki Method as well as advertise.
HEAVY TIME COMMITMENT
Lillegard and Lumsden said many parents are hesitant because they don’t play an instrument. They said, this is not required, but what is required is a large time commitment.
“This isn’t something where you can drop your child off and have a half hour of free time,” said Redmond resident Colette Moss.
Moss’ daughter Kinley Moss is 5 and has been playing the violin for a little more than a year. Before coming to Lillegard about a month ago, Kinley had been taking lessons with a Suzuki instructor in Bothell. Her mother said it was worth the drive, but when she heard a Suzuki school opened in Redmond she made the switch as soon as she could.
“I was so excited because it was so much closer,” Moss said. “We really like having a Suzuki teacher on the Eastside. I kept thinking, ‘I wish we could find someone closer.'”
Moss is the product of the Suzuki Method as well, but in piano. She stuck with the method from about the age of 4 till she was about 10 years old. She said she didn’t progress as much through the more traditional method.
“(With Suzuki), you learn the very fundamentals very well, which in my mind really sets a foundation,” she said.
Martinez has a musical background playing the guitar and cuatro — a Puerto Rican strings instrument — but no experience with the Suzuki Method until her son’s lessons began. Just as Lillegard and Lumsden said, Martinez said this and a musical background does not matter. What really matters is that the parent enjoys music and is willing to become involved. It becomes a family experience, which is what she has enjoyed the most with Diego’s cello lessons.
“I get to see how he progresses and how he keeps enjoying it,” she said.
As for Diego, his favorite part is the creativity the cello allows.
“I get to play different notes and I get to make up my own songs with the different notes,” he said.