By Valerie Hewson - Saint John's, Newfoundland
The Suzuki Talent Education Program (STEP) of Newfoundland and Labrador has felt like a construction site over the past year, as we restructured our program to build a more stream-lined experience for families, teachers, and staff. To help lead our restructuring, we hired a consultant to get some outside perspective and expertise.
For the life of our program, we had struggled with not owning our own facility and the scheduling challenges that came along with holding classes at a site with other competing bookings and events. Every year, our 18 group classes from September to June were held on whichever Saturdays the facility could accommodate. While this irregular schedule was less than ideal, we had accepted it as our fate.
With the help of our consultant, however, we re-organized the 2019-2020 season into three, 11-week trimesters — fall, winter, and spring — each with nine Saturday morning classes in a three-on, one-off pattern. In order to implement this new, regular schedule, we found an alternative location for those weeks that couldn’t be accommodated at our regular venue. While we were initially nervous about families having to relocate for these few classes, the benefits of having consistent group classes have far outweighed the inconvenience accommodating a second location.
The new spring trimester will allow the program to offer an additional trimester of our Music with your Baby classes, an Introduction to Viola class, and allow the STEP Fiddlers, our performing fiddle group, to meet to prepare for summer performances.
Along with this new trimester structure, we’ve also reorganized our staff structure, offered spring registration, and added more social events for families. Most importantly, we’ve revived our Institute to offer flute and piano teacher training in order to financially support the Institute (due to dwindling numbers) and help expand the program generally.
About 10 years ago, we introduced a Musicianship curriculum to supplement the foundations of music theory and sight-reading. This curriculum is rooted in the Suzuki philosophy, having parents participate in activities alongside their children.
Originally, Musicianship classes started at age 6, but this year, we began a Dalcroze-inspired Music and Movement class for ages 3-6. From there, students will progress through levels following the order of the rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, and Green. After graduating Green, students are eligible to join our Reading Orchestra, which is the ultimate goal of our curriculum. Ideally, after completing the Musicianship program, our students will be ready to join our small orchestral performing group, the Young Virtuosi (Book 6 violin, Book 5 cello/viola).
We have revamped the curriculum by adding a “purpose” to each level, creating a general structure of each class, and ultimately breaking down the curriculum into five concepts:
Ensemble = playing together
Ear Training = learning to identify by ear
Pitch/Rhythm = identifying pitch and rhythm
Writing music = writing/notation
Practical Application = applying learned concepts to the instrument
While we’ve taken off our hard hats — for now — the program is already reaping the benefits our constructive changes, and I look forward to more improvements and progress with our fabulous STEP team!