Heidi Curatolo: 5th Suzuki Teachers Xchange Conference in Germany – PART 2

Conference Motto:

Excellence from the Start

Following the Book 6 Intensive Course, the 5th Suzuki Teachers Xchange Conference began on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. with a brief welcome from Kerstin Wartberg, Director of the German Suzuki Institute.  Over 130 teachers from 20 countries throughout Europe and North America gathered in the main lecture hall of the Akademie Remscheid to begin two days of seminars, presentations, and training sessions. 

During the conference, Carol Bez and Agathe Jerie from Switzerland, Anders Grøn from Denmark, Andrea Mugrauer from Austria,  and Kathrin Averdung and Kerstin Wartberg from Germany  were the trainers for an introductory course on the Suzuki method and its application to music learning.  Approximately 20 interested teachers participated in the course.  The purpose of the course was to give perspective teachers a basic understanding of the Suzuki approach and to introduce them to the ideas in Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy.

Isabel Morey Suau, from Germany, led the first activity. Isabel and I had exchanged messages and become friends on Facebook, so it was very exciting for me to finally meet her in person. She led a group class demonstration and had teachers volunteer to be the “children” for her class.

Isabel illustrated several of her techniques for using toy props. Using a very scary (but funny) black rubber rat with sharp pointy teeth, Isabel successfully got our attention to start the class. Isabel made an excellent point about the use of props, toys, and games.  For Isabel, props can serve as a way to create a memory or reminder of important ideas and concepts in the minds of the children. They are not just about entertainment, but for creating a strong memory association—although they can certainly be fun.

Once we were ready to start, she had us take our violins and place them on the ground. She used nonverbal cues to organize our arrangement, focus our attention, and to prepare the class for learning. We did exactly as she asked, but then she indicated through her actions that it was too loud and had us try again even more gently and with less sound.  

She also shared a unique system for controlling the flow of traffic in and out of class. Isabel overlaps two classes and has a student from the previous class lead a piece while she tunes the children from the next class.  Once a student has been tuned, she then adds them to the group one by one. Each child from the previous group leads a piece until she dismisses the previous class and is ready to start the next one. This procedure cuts back on the children becoming noisy and maintains their focus.  She also advised teachers that the best way to start a group class is to just begin the piano accompaniment and get started; talking just makes students (and parents) want to talk more!

Using several recordings (including the Suzuki, Step-by-Step, and Recital Training CDs) as accompaniment, Isabel modeled a variety of activities using music and movement to prepare techniques used in the Suzuki repertoire. Flowing movements, circular gestures, knee bends, and other body motions were first experienced by the group and then related to the teaching points of the pieces.

Charles Krigbaum presented a 90-minute lecture called Excellence from the Start where he explained how he aspires to create an environment of success and excitement and seeks to motivate students and their parents to develop the abilities of the child in the spirit of Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy.  He outlined his ideas about excellence, revealed strategies for setting the tone of one’s program, and gave practical examples for bringing out the best in everyone.  Charles shared many video examples of his students at different levels, and even showed the development of several children (over a period of many years), from the Pre-Twinkle stage to playing major concertos.

Krigbaum, Kerstin, Gruppe_004_Klein

Steven (5 years old) practices the Pre-Twinkle bow hold

 Steven (now 7 years old) works on vibrato

Charles believes that through the process of learning to play the violin, children learn valuable life lessons: that attitude is everything, to always try your best, to have the ability to do things even when we do not want to, to value cooperation, and to experience the joyful satisfaction of accomplishments achieved as the result of one’s own efforts.
He stated that developing the technical and musical tools for excellence in performance, along with developing the character of the child are the dual goals of the Suzuki method.  Charles urged teachers to always remember that in the Suzuki method we advocate developing the character of the child, for it is the character of the child that will be reflected in the quality of their music. He joked that “no one ever became excellent at anything by doing something once or twice, two or three times a week.”  He stated that the pursuit of excellence is our way as Suzuki teachers to help children develop into the best they can be.

Charles has a very direct, yet inspiring way of communicating with parents and students.  He lets parents know from the very beginning that the Suzuki experience is a mirror of their own personal values, work ethic, and attitude.  He outlined ways to inspire excellence using a positive approach, and stressed that the teacher must set the pace of progress, insist on completing assignments, and require the parent to fully embrace their role in the Suzuki Triangle. 

He concluded his presentation with the following thought:
“Imagine a world where children grow up learning to play the violin. Yes, there are challenges – but the children develop into wonderful people with splendid abilities and fine character. They have a deep appreciation for the power of their own efforts, a connection to music and all things beautiful, and know the joy of delayed gratification. Every day, teachers all over the world are using Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy and vision to create, through music, a world where these possibilities become reality. Good communities have a shared set of values. The Suzuki community is no different, and we are all in this together. Together we can achieve excellence from the start.

The Spanish Suzuki teacher Claudio Forcada from England shared part of his doctoral thesis on the similarities of different teaching schools from Kato Havas, Paul Rolland, and Mimi Zweig Pedagogy. Charles shared with me that he was amazed at how small the music world truly is. He and Claudio had been in Mimi Zweig’s pedagogy class together 10 years ago at the Indiana Summer Music Festival. Unfortunately we had to choose which workshops to attend and when to have dinner, so I was only able to see the beginning of this lecture.  There were so many things happening, it was hard to choose!


At the end of the day there were two parallel events. “Pre-Twinkle Exercises without Instrument” presented by the teachers Mike Hoover, Tanja Bachmann, Pia Karls, Jordi Neumann and Constanze Wurzel.
I attended the session called “Irish Fiddle Tunes for Suzuki Students” by Bernadette Robinson and her sister, Noelle McHugh. This class was so much fun! Bernadette and Noelle explained that culturally in Ireland, folk tunes are taught by ear and are a part of the environment of the child from an extremely young age.  For many generations, music has been passed down in a manner that is strikingly similar to the Suzuki Method.  

The Irish Suzuki teachers, the sisters Bernadette Robinson & Noelle McHugh

The Irish Suzuki teachers, the sisters Bernadette Robinson & Noelle McHugh

A few of us enjoyed this session so much that we continued to play fiddle tunes at the bar very late into the night as a part of the “evening program”.


The evening seminars ended with Anders Grøn from Copenhagen and a group of his cello teachers playing arrangements of Suzuki pieces for cello choir. These touching arrangements exemplified “how to speak and sing through our instrument.”




The incredible tone of the cellos, played so beautifully and with great emotion was so moving to me. I sat motionless in awe. It made me want to learn how to play the cello.


Ruth Brons

Early Sunday morning there were three different lectures occurring at the same time. Unfortunately, I will admit that I missed Ruth Brons “Things 4 Strings” bow hold accessories discussion, although I am interested in purchasing one to experiment with.  

During the Conference, Ruth met with many teachers and shared her story of how the bow-hold buddies were invented, the needs that she believes they can help meet, and her experiences with using them with her own students.  The participants at the Conference clearly had a unique opportunity to learn about a pedagogical tool directly from the inventor!

Here you can see a video with the latest information about “Things 4 Strings.”

Our Conference IT specialist, Christoph Friedrichs, who has managed all of the technological support for the Xchange for several years, presented himself this year as a speaker.
He invited all Suzuki teachers to use Facebook and to recognize the opportunities present in
social networking in bringing Suzuki communities together. He spoke about common concerns and problems that could be present when adapting to social media (such as privacy and maintaining professionalism) and how to manage them.  He noted that we are all pioneering a new era in community building, and as a positive example he mentioned the Facebook group “SUZUKI TEACHING IDEAS – EXCHANGE.” This and other Suzuki groups are great opportunities to be in contact with colleagues from all over the world and to share teaching experiences.  Christoph reminded the participants that in the 21st century, communities are no longer bound by physical limitations (indeed our close friends and colleagues may live on the other side of the world) and that everyone who uses Facebook prudently can find lively exchange, good teaching ideas, and new inspiration. 

Gino Romero Ramirez is a Suzuki violin teacher originally from Columbia who now lives and teaches in Germany and works a lot with rhythm, body percussion, and drums. Often he uses the Step-by-Step CDs in classes that integrate drumming, body percussion, stepping, and singing. He teaches Suzuki classes and shares the joy of music in the public schools for up to nearly 700 children a week! We watched a video of Gino’s energetic and engaging teaching and it included so many different facets.   He shared his experiences with teaching large groups of children in many diverse formats.  From violin classes and general music to orchestra and early childhood music—it is clear that Gino has many talents and shares them to touch the lives of so many children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn about music and the violin. Gino’s infectious and playful spirit is most certainly inspired by Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy.

Gino Romero Ramirez Gino Romero Ramirez

Here is an example of some of the rhythm training that he uses in group lessons.


Claudio Forcada & Andrea Quiroz

               Claudio Forcada & Andrea Quiroz

Andrea Quiroz from Barcelona presented a note reading game (invented by Andrea) with many possible uses and variations.  

It  is  directed  to young  children and  their  parents and  helps them  to  understand  the  first steps  of  note reading in a playful manner.  Children using Andrea’s system are able to learn elementary pitches, rhythms, and time signatures, all while having quite a lot of fun.

On Sunday morning at 9:15 a.m., most of the teachers at the Conference gathered in the main lecture hall of the Akademie Remscheid to hear Simon Fischer, internationally renowned teacher, violinist, author, and pedagogue, present a morning of lectures on “Solving Problems in String Playing.”

Basics_D_U1All German-speaking teachers received a special gift from the conference organizer: a copy of the newly published edition of Basics translated into German by Kerstin Wartberg.  This enormous project (231 pages of English to German translation) was completed just in time for the conference, and the appearance of Mr. Fischer at the Xchange was a perfect opportunity to celebrate the release of this important publication.

The participants had been eagerly awaiting Mr. Fischer’s presentation and the excitement in the room was quite evident. 

His lecture focused on the teaching of proportions, tone production, and making a distinction between what constitutes a “violin lesson” versus a “music lesson.” 


It was very exciting for me to interact with Simon, and he used me as an example for illustrating the importance of healthy posture and position in order to prevent injury. 

After the lecture, many teachers greeted Mr. Fischer and had the opportunity to have their books signed and to pose for pictures.  Daina Volodka and Charles Krigbaum are preparing a detailed article about Simon Fischer’s presentation for an upcoming blog. 

Check back here in the future for this article, and also for Part III of this series coming soon!

Simon Fischer & fans


Heidi L. Curatolo

Director of the Suzuki Violin and Piano Institute of Aspen, USA


Music Performance from Brooklyn College

City Universtiy of New York 1998
Masters in Education and Mathematics Brooklyn College, 2001
Aspen Music Festival and School alumni

Read what the newspaper ASPEN TIMES reports about Heidi’s Suzuki Institute.

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