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'Musical Minds' Series -New Chamber Music Curriculum for Children

Becky Chaffee

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Published: September 6, 2014 at 2:48 PM [UTC]

Unique Chamber Music Curriculum for Children by Alison Maerker Garner
This entry was posted on September 5, 2014 by becky.

Both my children had the good fortune of having Suzuki lessons from the very fine musician and teacher, Alison Maerker Garner. Ms. Garner is involved in so much more than teaching Suzuki students. She has taught Music and Movement using Orff, Dalcroze and Kodaly methods in addition to producing fine violin recordings available on CD’s. She is currently publishing a Chamber Music Series music curriculum for children titled “Musical Minds”. "The volumes develop audiation through symbol, art, language, and movement applied to performance". They include music activities for kids starting with preschool themes on up to older advanced musicians.

1. Violettes: You were a child prodigy in music with the luck to be educated by William Starr, Founder of the Suzuki Association of the Americas, amongst others. You travelled internationally with his Suzuki group at age 6 and played twice for Mr. Suzuki himself! What stands out in your memory in those years?
Link to Alison's Bio.

Alison: The closeness between parents, teachers, and students. We were truly a family. As an only child, my early Suzuki experiences were critical to my social and emotional development. Being part of a community dedicated to nurturing the talent of every child provided a sound foundation for me from which to grow. That is the original vision Suzuki had…nourishing the child spiritually and emotionally through music talent education.

2. Violettes: You didn’t speak until age 8, similar to several other prodigies such as Mozart. Were your parents in terror over your lack of verbal skills, or did they understand just how much must have been developing in your head at that time? How did they discover your musical gift? Does this childhood scenario contribute to your interest in children’s musical development?

Alison: Truthfully, I was never a prodigy. I showed great interest in dance, art, and music from an early age, and immersed myself in all three since I can remember. Neither of my parents were musicians---my father was a nuclear physicist and my mother a bio-physicist---so my passion for the arts mystified them. I began violin and dance at four primarily because my parents felt I needed the discipline, but also because I demonstrated a love for them.
My parents did worry about my unwillingness to speak English. I talked fluently at two and three, but in my own language. My mother understood it, so why speak anything else? Once I started school a couple years later (around 5 and 6), I had to speak to be understood and rapidly did so. I don’t think my slowness in acquiring language was a sign of intelligence. It was more likely I was obstinate and a bit lazy. My mother did march me to a doctor or two over the course of several years thinking I might be stupid, but they all felt I would talk when I wanted to, and that’s exactly what happened.

My interest in music education comes from my own experience as a musical child and my training. The Suzuki Method developed my ear and skill for music, but it didn’t develop my mind. I believe we are innately musical, but express that ability in vastly different ways. For example, note-reading was barely touched on when I was coming through the program, so I felt I was way behind in theory, orchestra, and chamber music skills. What I realized later, is that I had such a highly developed ear for music that the other skills came easily. It was simply a matter of putting a label to a concept I was already intimately familiar with. I want my students to have the opportunity to explore their musical gifts in many ways early on, such as performance, improvisation, composition, arranging, reading, analyzing, and listening. Not everyone takes to performance. There are many other ways to be musical.

3. Violettes: How is your new “Musical Minds” publication different than what currently exists on the market? (I don’t think there is any other chamber music curriculum for children on the market?)

Alison: Musical Minds is a response to my own experiences as a student, performer, and teacher. It has within it the multiple ways a student can discover his/her musical self. Current research in cognitive science, memory, and particularly the work done on mirror neurons emphasize that multi-sensory, imitative, and memory-based learning is the most effective for long-term recall and creative thinking. Musical Minds is founded on that premise.

Volume 1 introduces the concepts of rhythm, melody, tempo, form, and dynamics through sensory experience: visual art, movement, singing, conducting, listening, feeling, and playing. Pre-reading symbols are introduced for young violinists, violists, cellists, and pianists as a way to name concepts learned. Volume 2 is for intermediate violin, piano, viola, and cello students. In volume 2, I use chamber music as a focus to develop both aesthetic and artistic facets of music performance. In presenting a musical concept, I introduce it first in isolation and then within the context of a musical work. For instance, a rhythmic pattern is prepared through imitation, memorization, improvisation on that pattern, placing it within a form, reading, writing it down by ear, composing a simple tune with the pattern, listening/reading/playing the pattern in a folk tune, and listening/reading/playing the pattern within a piece. Only then can it be integrated into a work to be performed, placing it within the context of form, history, theory, dynamics, melody, texture, and tempo. The literature is accompanied by six CDs that rehearse the concepts with the student and illustrate them in poetry, rhyme, folk music, and the chamber repertoire. Manipulating all these musical elements in a chamber group is an added challenge, and my Musical Minds Volumes 3 and 4 set up ways students can learn to listen/study/practice chamber music by themselves and in a group. I haven’t seen such a book on the market that not only brings together language, visual art, and movement to teach music, but does it with chamber music as its goal.

To find out more, visit Alison's web site.


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