AUGUSTA – When the curtain rises at the Pineland Suzuki School’s annual benefit concert at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 5 at Cony High School Performing Arts Center, more than 100 of Maine’s most accomplished young musicians will lift bows to instruments and transport a packed auditorium on a voyage through a thousand years of Classical and folk traditions. Four of the young musicians hail from Franklin County – Summer and Madeline Chamberlin of Carrabassett Valley, Leon Robie of Kingfield and Ellie Sloane-Barton of Farmington.
Many audience members will remark – as they do each year, according to Betsy Kobayashi, Director of the Pineland Suzuki School (PSS) – that they had no idea Maine had so many brilliant young musicians. But PSS students, age 3 to 18, are ‘regular’ kids, said Kobayashi. She explained that what sets them apart, musically speaking, is hard work, parental involvement and access to a team of highly trained, dedicated and enthusiastic teachers who use the Suzuki method of teaching music.
Teachers of the Suzuki method, which was developed by Dr. Shinichi Suzuki after World War II, believe that with proper instruction and support, all children can learn to play beautiful music as effortlessly and naturally as they learn to speak their native language. Suzuki teachers also work closely with parents to develop the whole child through music.
To this end, PSS students listen to music, take private lessons, participate in regular group classes, and play at concerts and public events as well as in small ensembles. According to Brenda Laverdiere, parent of three PSS students and 2009 Benefit Concert Coordinator, “The ‘positive peer pressure’ of belonging to a musical group is a key part of keeping kids motivated to practice.”
Kobayashi said, “The group experience allows them to form friendships and bonds with other young musicians; it exposes beginners to more advanced students who often inspire them; and it gives them the chance to experience the joy of playing music in an orchestral setting for appreciative audiences. This rich, supportive, non-competitive environment is fertile ground for learning.”
So successful is the PSS program that it is common for students and alumnae to win contests and prizes and be admitted to prestigious universities – and not just for music. Nonetheless, PSS is not oriented toward producing ‘stars.’ Rather, its mission said Kobayashi, is focused on Dr. Suzuki’s vision of nurturing musical talent and what Dr. Suzuki called “a beautiful heart” in every child.
Dr. Suzuki, she said, believed that every child can learn to play an instrument, that the benefits of a sound musical education are many, and that music can make the world a better place. “Teaching music is not my main purpose,” Suzuki wrote. “I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.”
Many PSS parents have had first-hand experience with the ways in which musical training and practice help children develop exactly the kind of qualities that Dr. Suzuki described. “Our son’s work habits – things like focused attention, attention to detail, cooperativeness, teamwork and perseverance — have benefited from his involvement with PSS,” said Deborah and Mark Robie, whose son has been studying at PSS for three years. They credit the school with providing their son with “the single most extraordinary educational experience of his life.” Recent scientific research also supports the idea that the study of music enhances brain development and cognitive function in children, said Kobayashi.
Throughout the year, PSS’s accomplished young musicians give dozens of free concerts at community events, seniors centers and schools throughout central and southern Maine and Franklin County. The April 5 benefit concert, whose theme is “Musical Time Travel: One Thousand Years in One Afternoon,” is the school’s largest fundraiser of the year. The funds it generates allow PSS to provide scholarships, keep tuition at reasonable levels, and enhance professional development and other functions of the school.
“At a time when so many public schools have reduced or eliminated their music programs, the work of schools like PSS is more important than ever,” said Walt McKee, president of the school’s Board of Directors, “and we are profoundly grateful for our community’s support, which allows us to provide a first-rate musical education to some talented young people who might otherwise not be able to afford it.”
Tickets ($10 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, free for children under 6) are available at the door. Refreshments and chamber music will be offered after the concert. For more information, call Brenda Laverdiere at 512-2372.