Philippine Suzuki Youth Orchestra Easter concert at Manila Cathedral
(First of three parts)
The Suzuki method is amazing,” Sr. Marie Vincent Llamzon told legendary music educator Carmencita. Arambulo in 1977. “The piano technique I taught you in college can be taught to three-year-olds in just four Twinkle Variations. And you should hear the beautiful tones they make!”
A Paris-trained pianist and conductor, Sr. Marie Vincent taught piano for decades in the traditional way. But she stopped teaching college students in California and decided to guide young children instead. She was not “the impulsive type,” so Arambulo wanted to “see to believe.” On a visit to Suzuki trainer Doris Kepellman, whose studio was located near a primary school, Arambulo witnessed happy, smiling faces of children and parents who enjoyed the short structured lessons. No one frowned, cried or complained.
I find this astonishing, as I recall enjoying piano lessons for the most part in childhood, except for the whacks and yells of teachers having a bad day.
Arambulo did not rush to implement Suzuki in her Greenhills Music Studio (GMS). “Teaching something one only half-knows is dangerous.” Instead, she immersed herself in Suzuki exercises and listened to the tapes of the pieces by ear, the way children are expected to do.
In 1981, Arambulo was the lone Philippine delegate to a Suzuki conference, where she met founder Shinichi Suzuki and his wife Waltraud. “I saw the best examples of Suzuki teaching all over the world,” said Arambulo. “Thousands of children playing the violin, piano, viola, cello and flute came with their teachers and parents and made exquisite music together. The pervading spirit was one of love, unity, cooperation and excellence.”
“Completely sold on the Suzuki method,” Arambulo intensively trained at the American Suzuki Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Upon her return, she finally tried it out on her students at GMS and later on, the Children’s Talent Education Center (CTEC).
My son Scott flourished during preschool days in CTEC, where music underpinned language, math, art. Though he did not pursue music as a career, today he plays the piano for leisure, having learned Suzuki basics.
The Suzuki method continues to bear fruit today, half a century later.
This April 13, the Philippine Suzuki Youth Orchestra (PSYO) will perform the Easter concert “Risen” at the Manila Cathedral Basilica, the first children’s music group to do so. “Music has always been an integral part of our faith,” said Msgr. Rolando dela Cruz, the incoming rector. “It is my vision to create a vibrant cultural atmosphere in our church where young minds can come together to appreciate music and faith.”
Since its formation in 2019, PSYO has grown from a small children’s ensemble to a training string orchestra with a varied repertoire of pieces from the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods, as well as contemporary favorites. Under conductor Herrick Ortiz of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, PSYO trains violinists, violists and cellists as young as nine years old.
The young musicians of PSYO balance music with academics, modeling the values learned—discipline, hard work and teamwork—essential to success in business, the arts and sciences, and other fields.
Making beautiful music with PSYO in the concert are violinist Theodore Julius Tan (2022 National Music Competitions for Young Artists Foundation champion), vocalist Jamie Rose Ong, the Spectrum Cello Quartet, with special guests luthier Patrick Garcia, violinist Virna Valerio, Manila Cathedral pipe organist Raphael Martin Andaya, and Philippine Suzuki Association president and pianist Carolyn Cheng.
I fondly remember choir practices with Cheng, our director when I sang in Mary the Queen Parish decades ago.
For tickets to the PSYO Easter concert, Viber 09064311407 or go to bit.ly/3mrdp8c. Reception opens at 5:30 pm and the concert starts at 6:30 pm.
(Next week: What Suzuki can teach family businesses)
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