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Bach in the Subways

Bach in the Subways
in 2019 the LRT station was under construction, so Trans Ed gave us all safety gear and we played on the site.

The most important idea behind Bach in the Subways has always been to bring live Bach, and by extension classical music, to as many people as possible, especially those who would not normally hear it. 


We first became involved with the Bach in the Subways movement in 2015, when we took a group of students to do a flash mob at the Edmonton Downtown Farmer’s Market and then played at the underground LRT station at City Hall. Since then, we have tried (with some unavoidable interruptions due to the COVID pandemic) to make this a yearly event in our studio. This event aligns with our philosophy of creating events where teaching artists, who are professional performers, play along with students.

Bach in the Subways 2023:
Thursday March 23 at 6:30 pm to 7:30 pm

This year we will be hosted by the Night of Artists Gallery in the Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre.

The plan is to do a quick Bach flashmob at the LRT station outside the mall (weather and construction permitting) and then to move inside to play in the gallery.

Practice ladder challenge

Practice ladder challenge

During the four weeks leading up to the school winter break, we challenge our students to keep track of the number of days they practice, AND the number of days that they listen to their reference recording. For every day that they do both, practicing AND listening, they earn a rung on our studio practice ladder.

In 2017, for every 50 rungs on the ladder, we made a donation through the Plan Canada Gifts of Hope  program. Up to 200 rungs on the ladder, we donated baby chicks;  up to 400 rungs, we donated beehives; up to 600, sheep; up to 800, goats, and if they got past 800, we would go for the whole barnyard. 🙂 The students built a practice ladder of just over 400 rungs, earning 4 baby chicks and four beehives.  

In 2018,  it was planting trees around schools. The challenge was that we would donate 1 tree for every 50 rungs. Our students tracked their listening and practice for about 3 weeks.  In those few weeks they listened and practiced for a combined total of 406 days and we donated 8 trees.
Thanks you also to the Dong family who added to our studio donation by giving an additional donation through Plan Canada of Medicine for Moms and Babies.

In 2019, we went back to animals, as that seemed to appeal more to our younger students. The challenge was 100 rungs for baby chicks, 250 for a sheep, 400 for a goat, 550 for chicks + goat, 700 for chicks + sheep, 850 for two goats, and 1000 for the whole barnyard. Our students created a ladder of 604 rungs (200 more than  last year!), earning a gift of a goat and chicks through Plan Canada. The Suzuki Early Childhood class also participated in the challenge this year, since they also have a reference recording to listen to and songs to practice with their parents.

Looking forward to what happens with our challenge in 2020!

First Suzuki Convention of the Americas

We both had the privilege of attending the First Suzuki Convention of the Americas in Cancun, Mexico, from May 1 to 5, 2019. Unlike the biannual Suzuki Conference in Minneapolis, which only accepts students who audition at the highest level, this conference was open to ALL, even the babies and beginners! There were advanced students, too, who had auditioned for placement in the orchestras, but seeing the full range of age and ability come together from 27 different countries really put an emphasis on the basic Suzuki philosophy: Every Child Can!

Kathleen had been asked to teach a recorder group class of students in Suzuki Recorder Books 1 – 3.  Here are some pictures of the class in action, student diploma presentations, and the final performance on the last day of the conference.

Thomas was invited to join Suzuki Early Childhood Education Teacher Trainer Wan Tsai Chen to work with the baby class:

The SECE classes and teachers in performance at the SuzukiADA sing Twinkle in English, Portuguese and Spanish.

Kathleen also had a student audition for the orchestra. She was selected to participate from applicants from 27 different countries. She is from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Her stand partner was from Patagonia, Argentina. Student exchanges don’t get any better than this!

Flute section of the orchestra

North Pole meets South Pole (almost!)

There was a wide range of sessions for teachers.  They were all given by other teachers from across the Americas. The focus of the sessions was on Suzuki philosophy, and most sessions were not instrument specific.

Session threads included the following:

  • building successful studios and programs, Suzuki’s idea of  developing character first and ability second, and shaping lessons that create practice assignments that really work to develop both of the above.
  • supporting parents, and the importance of making sure that parents coming in to a Suzuki program had enough understanding of how Suzuki method works in order to make the commitment to do it before they start lessons.
  • creating lessons and supplementary activities that develop the whole child. The right brain, logical thinking, assessing right from wrong, following clear instructions; and the left brain, creative, exploratory, and experimental.
  • developing effective practice and learning strategies in lessons and practice assignments. New research in neurology and psychology was discussed and ideas for creating lessons and practice assignments based on this research were discussed.

All teachers who attended also had the option of taking a 10 hour course in Dalcrose or Caroline Fraser’s class in teaching reading.  I chose the reading course, which had many excellent ideas and exercises for developing reading using the early Suzuki repertoire that the students already know. Kathleen chose the Dalcroze course.  We both enjoyed the courses and plan to incorporate many of the ideas into our teaching.

In addition to the orchestras for the more advanced students, book 1-3 students were invited to attend the conference to participate in group classes and masterclasses.  They also participated in a choral program in which they sang in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

The book 1 violin class, with teacher Koen Rens from Belgium, was another wonderful example of the student experience at the conference.

Through common repertoire and their Suzuki background, Koen brought these children from many different countries, speaking different languages, to a shared experience creating beauty together through music. Along the way there was much laughter and fun.



New Idea! – Site specific layered compositions

We are very excited about a new approach to composing and arranging that has been evolving in our creative practice. 

Our most recent arrangements have been deconstructing  and recombining various melodies based on a common thread. 

  • In Red River Dances, we went back to the old French, Scots, and Indigenous music and recombined those elements to merge into a traditional Métis fiddle tune. 
  • In l’Homme Armé,  we took the medieval French song “beware the armed man” and used it as a cantus firmus to create a piece that reflected the modern fears of armed conflict and solitary shooters that pervade the media. 
  • In English Songbirds, we take the 17th C  “English Nightingale” and connect it to Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird”
  • In Butter Chicken Poutine, a fast food menu item inspired a combination of Quebecois fiddle tunes played with the accompaniment of tanpura and tabla. 

Our work in historical performance practice has led us to an “archeaological” approach, where the ancient sources of a melody are drawn in as layers to accompany our selected tune. Historical performance practice is usually centred on European music. We started wondering if we could take the same approach to music as it was played in North America  at the same time (c. 1500 – 1700). This led us into research on early colonial music and its interaction with Indigenous traditions. 

We also became intrigued by the work of Pauline Oliveros and other contemporary composers who incorporate aleatoric and improvisational elements plus the sounds already present in the environment as part of the performance of a work. 

So our latest idea is to create site-specific compositions, that begin with the natural sounds already present in the environment and then add subsequent layers of sound and music representing the history of human activity in that area. 

We were also reading Eric Booth on interactive performances, and realized that we could take our years of experience doing composition workshops with students as part of the Artist in Schools Residency program, and use a similar approach to generate input from local residents in a site specific composition project. 

We are making plans to experiment with this idea in some areas in and around where we live. But we also think that this would be a great project for a community residency, so we are open to suggestions on possible locations and sponsors.  

UPDATE: JULY 11, 2017

We just received a grant from the Edmonton Heritage Council to create a piece that uses these ideas! It will reflect the history of the  River Crossings / Rossdale area of Edmonton.  Grateful to the EHC for using public art funding for a performance project. This is going to be a big project with lots of layers of community involvement, so we have created a separate page to chronicle the process. [Read more….]

Listening for Easter Eggs

Listening for Easter Eggs

When we hide Easter eggs and give a child a basket to collect them in, we make sure that the eggs are hidden but still possible to find.
When a child plays a musical instrument, picking out the notes of the tune is like finding the eggs, and the eggs are “hidden” in the child’s memory.
If you don’t listen to the recording, that’s like giving the child a basket but not hiding any eggs.

I see students in my studio who stop playing as soon as they are uncertain of what comes next and look at me, expecting me to show them the next note. They do not try to find it. I do not want to tell them – I am trying to teach them how to find out for themselves. But if they haven’t listened to the recording, they don’t know where to look. I have other students who continue through into less familiar territory, and if they hear an error, stop and try to correct it, comparing it to their memory of what they are trying to play. These are the students who have listened to the recording, and by observing them “hunt and peck” looking for the solution, I learn much about how to help them learn, while the student is learning the value of persistence and determination. These are the students who already have some eggs in their basket and they know there are more out there! The others are standing with their empty baskets, disappointed because there are no eggs.

So hide some eggs so your child can have the fun challenge of filling his basket – listen to the recording!

(Thanks to the Classical Musicians Everywhere Facebook page for the photo!)