Suzuki Seniors 2024

Congratulations to our Suzuki Seniors who performed in the Seniors’ Concerts on February 4 and February 11. There were many stunning solo performances and many dynamite concertos accompanied by both the Suzuki faculty orchestra and the Suzuki Chamber Orchestra. 

Read about each student’s musical journey in their essays below. These stories are shining examples of the power of our Suzuki community.

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Allen Christopher A.

Allen Christopher seated at pinao

Music has played a critical role in shaping me throughout my life. Whether playing the cascading melodies of Mozart and Beethoven, listening to the triumphant scores of movies, or studying the intricacies of the musical language, I have always been drawn to the notes and melodies of music.

From a very young age, I was drawn to the piano. My great-grandfather was an amazing pianist who inspired me in my piano pursuits. Laying my hands on the keys with him was my initial foray into playing the piano. This magical experience thrust me into the world of music in which I now reside.

When I first started taking piano lessons at the age of six, I was told I had a gift for dynamics. This has been the cornerstone of my piano ever since. As I continued to play and listen to different types of music, I learned how to tell human stories by painting a crescendo of emotion, a hard staccato that pierces through the other notes, or a dramatic trill that can change the way you see the world. Using these dynamics, I have shaped my pieces to evoke a myriad of emotions from my audiences.

After learning piano for 9 years, I left the studio. This was a difficult decision, but I always intended to return when I was able to. Throughout this period, I instantly regretted the loss of piano, and without the music, my life felt much more empty. During this time, I truly realized that I could not live my life without the piano and keeping it in my life will be an important consideration moving forward. So, after a year and a half, I rejoined Mrs. Sophocleus’ studio to finish my high school years.

Studying piano under my teacher, Susan Sophocleus, I have progressed in my piano skills further than I have ever thought possible. Under her loving guidance and incredible support, I have performed many pieces chosen by her with exceptional care and consideration for my strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. I truly thank her for being such a caring and supportive teacher.

Now in my senior year of high school, I am performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23. After the long journey that I have embarked on to get to this point, I have to say that I have enjoyed it. There may have been some long days of practicing, tough performances, and complicated pieces, but sticking with the piano has made a profound impact on how I have lived my life. Throughout this, I have made some of my fondest memories and proudest accomplishments, and I would not have traded it for anything.

William B.

William B with Cello

Yo-Yo Ma once said, “When you learn something from people, or from a culture, you accept it as a gift, and it is your lifelong commitment to preserve it and build on it.” I truly believe that my past 15 years of Suzuki education at MacPhail has been a gift that I will forever treasure as I explore the next chapters of my musical journey in college and in life. I have every intention of preserving and building upon these musical gifts and hope to pass them on in many ways.

From lessons to studio recitals to orchestra concerts, Saturday morning music come rain or shine, rock music in garages and pubs, to entertaining at block par􀀂es, I am eternally grateful to the team of teachers who fostered my love of music. Joe Kaiser has been my rock or so many years, helping me navigate through the books of Suzuki as well as the books of life. The lessons that we spent just talking were just as valuable to the person I have become as the music itself. I learned to expand my thinking beyond Suzuki when Andrea Glass founded Cello Rock and I am grateful to have been invited into that amazing world. And if not for Carlynn Savot teaching us beautiful tone and flawless technique, I would not have learned the importance of communication through eyebrows.

While I don’t yet know with certainty what role music will play in my life, I do not doubt that it will stay with me, both in the notes from my cello, and in the skills I learned from Suzuki music: communicating and interacting with many types of people – verbally and non-verbally, working as a team, expressing a spectacular breadth of emotion without words, determination when I feel I have nothing left to give, patience with myself and others, and the ability to share the joy of music with those who might need or want it.

And finally, thank you to my parents for the endless hours of driving, carrying cellos and tiny cello chairs, buying plane seats for the cellos to get to camp (Hey – did we ever get that extra pack of pretzels for Mr. Cello in seat 32A?). And thank you, Mom, for the infinite reserve of practice bribes when I was little… and also last week.

Kevin B.

Kevin B outdoors

Following in the footsteps of my older brother, I decided to play piano when I was five years old. I was nervous going on stage and playing in front of a crowd. But as I got older, I realized it was alright to be scared and nervous. I came to enjoy playing the piano and never minded practicing. The Suzuki program has taught me many skills and has allowed me to grow into who I am today.

During my second or third year of playing piano, I remember hearing about a challenge to practice 100 days in a row. I decided to take on the challenge. I learned to be responsible, making sure I was practicing every day. Through my hard work, I succeeded and earned the prize for completing the challenge.

I also learned to persevere through the 10 Performance Challenge, which I performed Arietta ten times. I remember looking at the plaque and seeing other students’ names on it. I said to myself, “I want my name on there one day.” I remember how much time was spent playing the same song, but I learned to be persistent. At the end of the challenge, I remember playing with no errors. My name is now listed on the plaque hanging on the 4th floor at MacPhail.

Lastly, I learned to be thankful for the people I have around me. I want to thank my teachers Beth Turco, Dr. Benjamin Downs, Julia Clearman, and Rebecca Heyn. I want to also thank my parents, friends, and siblings. I also want to thank MacPhail for providing the perfect place for me to learn.

A few of my favorite memories include Halloween recitals where students wore costumes, duets with my brothers, February Valentine’s performances at nursing homes, and group piano classes. After lessons, I enjoyed stopping at the vending machines and getting M&Ms from the gumball stand. I also had fun going to the Spaghetti Factory and other restaurants a􀀃er recitals and group piano class and going to different grocery stores downtown. I will treasure these wonderful memories forever.

Uma B.

My favorite thing about Suzuki has always been the emphasis on playing together. There’s something so lovely about the community that can form when everyone ends up learning the same music, working through the same process. Combine that with the Suzuki way of memorizing most everything you play, and you end up with a group of people able to stand there together with any other Suzuki kid and pull off some random book 4 piece just for the fun of it. Even if we don’t always know the name of the pieces (I’ve still never figured out what seems like the secret number codes for Seitz), we know them in our fingers, and our bodies, and so in that way we know each other.

When I first started with my current teacher, Ruth Bergman, she would have me repeat passages after her. After a few times of me trying to join in with her instead of waiting until she finished to play by myself, she stopped. “You don’t do this very much, do you,” she said to me. And she was right; making music by myself, instead of with whoever was next to me, wasn’t normal to me. I would practice alone, of course, but especially when I was really young, working with Margaret Haviland and doing group lessons at my school, I was very rarely ever truly alone while making music. Even when practicing at home, my mom would be in the next room, listening, or my younger sibling Ani would be there, playing the duet part. Of course, I’ve gained more independence with the violin as I’ve grown, but I’ve also made more connections, and a lot of those connections are thanks to Suzuki. In group class, orchestra, or with my friends, Suzuki has set me up to always have someone to work with, learn from, and play alongside. It’s made me a better listener, team member, and it’s made me really love making music.

Growing in such a nice musical community has meant that every ensemble I’ve been in—from my MacPhail orchestras to chamber groups to just a couple of us messing around with pop music in my garage—has had a different kind of wonder to it. I love being with people in general, but there’s something special about learning music together, as Suzuki kids get to do from the beginning; it’s how I’ve learned to collaborate, laugh, and truly dedicate myself to making something beautiful.

So, to my friends, lovely teachers, and family: thank you for your kindness, patience, and for always being willing to make music with me.

Emily C.

I started my Suzuki journey on the piano when I was 4 years old. Diana Woit was the first teacher I had ever had at MacPhail, gracefully introducing me to the world of music. Only two years later would I pick up the violin with Kelly Lehr. Funny enough, I distinctly remember choosing the violin thinking that you could play no wrong notes. I think I was a little confused as I imagined frets on the fingerboard that I could simply press. Boy was I wrong! You can imagine the slight disappointment I felt when I realized that the violin was a whole different story than playing the piano. I remember feeling the frustration as I struggled to coordinate my fingers with my bow while keeping the correct posture throughout my body. Nevertheless, I continued both piano and violin throughout my childhood and teenage years, and soon enough, grew to love both.

I still remember my first chamber music experience in Ms. Kelly’s home, surrounded by her many cats while eating Papa Murphy’s cheese pizza after a rehearsal of our Vivaldi quartet piece. It was during that time that I got my first taste of the music I could play outside of the Suzuki books. Those were my most transformative years as a violinist, as I soon began to see music as fun and inspiring rather than just a chore. Now, I absolutely cannot imagine what my life would be like without music and Suzuki at MacPhail. Almost like my second home, I practically grew up in the MacPhail Center for Music building in Minneapolis.

I want to thank both Ms. Kelly and Ms. Diana for being my teachers for the majority of my MacPhail Suzuki experience. I am grateful for both Diana’s patience and encouragement and Kelly’s lively energy and passion. I wouldn’t be the musician I am without both of them. I also want to thank Kathy Wood, who I recently started studying under this past spring. Learning about all the technical and theory-based elements of violin playing was a pleasure. I also would not have made it this far without the help of countless group teachers, instructors, and mentors of the MacPhail Suzuki program who further enriched my learning outside of my lessons.

Finally, I want to thank my parents for providing for a childhood of music. My mother, in particular, has supported me in countless ways whether it was driving me to classes, auditions, concerts, and camps, or staying up late with me when I was uploading audition tapes for moral support, even when I told her she could go to bed. Without her, none of this would be possible.

Daphne D.

I spent the first several weeks of my Suzuki career learning to hold a pencil like a bow. My fingers cramped with frustration. I complained to my parents about the fact that I was mature enough to hold a real bow and that I didn’t need to tie my hair back when I was finally deemed “ready” to hold the violin they had purchased for me underneath my chin. My hair simply was not in my way as my parents feared, and I let them know. Yet despite my initial, colorful reactions to minor inconveniences, growing up Suzuki has determined the person I am today more than I ever thought possible.

Since my kindergarten grievances, I have prepared and performed countless solos, participated in group classes, graduated from note reading class, and climbed the ladder to Chamber Orchestra. My years playing the violin have allowed me to teach myself the meaning of responsibility and how to embody it; I must practice for the benefit of the orchestra, I must practice to make progress in my lessons; I must practice for the violin to remain a part of my identity. To be responsible means to think for the good of yourself and your community at the same time.
I have practically been playing the violin since I learned to function. While my parents never cease to remind me of the “torture” they endured when I learned how to squeak the ix variations of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” out of my eight-inch instrument, and I’ll admit that the videos are hard to sit through, the sound I am now able to create is astounding in comparison. Left and right-handed pizzicato. Legato. Staccato. Ricochet bowings. It is all second nature now.

Of course, none of this would be possible without my devoted studio teachers. I would like to thank my first studio teacher, Margaret Haviland, for teaching me the importance of patience. Even though perfectionism is an unattainable goal of mine with nearly every project I put my mind to, my early Suzuki education taught me that only patience and practice will allow me to play as well as possible, but not perfectly. When I am asked why I play the violin, my answer is always “because it makes everything else go away, and I enjoy it.” For this, I would like to especially thank Ruth Bergman, who teaches me to genuinely love the music that I am playing; through learning how to criticize and compliment myself simply by listening, I have grown to love the way I play my violin more and more every day.

On one of my single-digit birthdays, one of my best family friends gifted me a CD of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto in D Major;” this was back when CDs were still (kind of) a thing. When I step onto the stage in Antonello Hall, now able to actually play the Tchaikovsky pieces I listened to for years as a senior, it is one of the times when I feel so proud of the work I have done and the skills I have mastered; this feeling of pride and the endless encouragement I have received from those around me have motivated me to continue violin throughout the last thirteen years, and I could not be more grateful.

Mark E.

As much as I have enjoyed all of my lessons and each recital and group class I’ve had within these walls, it is not the performances that I’ve given here that I value the most about MacPhail, but the opportunities I have been given because of it. My fondest memories surrounding my piano talents have come from how many people are moved by my spontaneous performances.

I grew up visiting my grandfather’s farm in my dad’s hometown in southern Minnesota all the time. It was the place where all of my cousins and aunts and uncles would all be together as one large family. When he moved into a nursing home in St. Cloud, we lost our connection with him and saw him, and the rest of the family, less than ever. During one of our visits, he remembered that I used to play piano for him and the family, so he brought out all the nursing home residents and had me give a little concert. Of course, I had nothing prepared, so I just went off of whatever I happened to have memorized at the time. The memory of my playing impacted not only my grandpa, but all of his friends and neighbors and made it even more special when I was able to play for him one last time at his funeral in 2020.

One of the most meaningful parts of my development at MacPhail has been the community service projects we have done. Through MacPhail, I have been able to play in hospitals, local nursing homes, and even at the MSP Airport for the Final Four basketball festivities in 2019. I give these outreach programs credit for building my appreciation for community service and I have continued pursuing this passion throughout my time in high school. I am now a volunteer with multiple adaptive sports teams and have dedicated hundreds of hours to volunteer work, thanks to the values instilled in me from my time at MacPhail.

One thing that many of you might already know about me is that I am as much an athlete as I am a musician. One of my mom’s personal favorite stories to tell about piano came during a football team party in the third grade. I found a piano in the venue and sat down to play for fun. My coach Kenny was so impressed by how well I played, he declared that anyone who can play piano that well is smart enough to be a great quarterback. Sure enough, the next season he tried me out and I became the team’s start quarterback. His words have really stuck with me and a part of me wonders if I’ve been playing piano for 13 years now partly because it helps me be a better athlete. Although I retired from tackle football after that glorious season as quarterback, some of the lessons piano have taught me still help my athletic endeavors to this day.

One of the primary ideas of the Suzuki method is repetition. This idea, having been lovingly drilled into me by both my teacher and my parents, has developed into the values of perseverance and discipline. When I qualified for the state meet in track and field in my sophomore and junior seasons of high school, I attributed piano for instilling the values that allowed my success.

This year I took a public speaking class that, you guessed it, required a ton of public speaking. As much as I’d like to consider myself someone who doesn’t get nervous easily, trying to give 8-minute-long speeches from memory certainly got the butterflies going. It wasn’t until I realized that I have been giving speeches from memory since kindergarten at MacPhail that I became comfortable and was able to calm myself and really enjoy the class. Every single studio or department recital, ensemble festival, community performance, honors recital performance, and even the group classes have prepared each and every one of us seniors to feel confident and fight the nerves when doing anything in a public setting. In my experience, the more nervous you are, the less likely you are to play a single correct note, so at one point or another, we all had to figure out a way to get over the nerves to perform.

During my 13 years at MacPhail, I looked forward to spending every Monday night with my fantastic teacher, Susan Sophocleus. She has been with me the entire time and is my longest-standing teacher in any subject. The basis of every single thing I wrote about this evening – all of the values and habits that I have developed through piano – is Susan. She has been a role model, a friend, and a part of my family for literally as long as I can remember. The biggest things I am going to miss about MacPhail are the inside jokes and the bond that I have built with her. From finding scholarship opportunities to allow me to continue learning at MacPhail to writing me a college recommendation letter, she is even helping me be successful in the first stage of my life which she will not be a part of. Thank you, Susan, for everything that you have done for me and my family. The skills you have taught me both at and away from the piano will serve me for the rest of my life.

Although my time at MacPhail is coming to an end, I am beyond thankful for all of the ways MacPhail, Suzuki, and especially Susan have made me the person I am today. Although mechanical engineering doesn’t usually allow for too many piano credits, I am excited to find ways to stick with music throughout this next chapter of my life.

Liam F.

I’ve had a unique experience learning violin within the Suzuki Triangle, that being the child, parent, and teacher. My mom is a Suzuki teacher at MacPhail and my Suzuki parent, and my teacher is my aunt. It has been an experience that not a lot of kids would normally have. It had its ups and downs, but overall, it was the reason for my success in developing my skills on my violin.

I have a lot of great memories of learning the violin. At first, I refused to do anything on the violin unless chocolate cheerios were involved. To get me to practice, my mom had to bribe me with cups of chocolate cheerios every day. Over the years, there were tear-filled moments during practices when I wanted to quit the violin and my mom wouldn’t let me. There were also tear-filled moments when my mom wanted to quit practicing violin with me, and I wouldn’t let her. In retrospect, I’m really grateful that those moments in time did not overlap! One of my worst memories is learning the piece The Happy Farmer. I hate that piece…

I’ve been given so much musical support from my family, the Suzuki faculty at MacPhail, and my friends. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Colorado Suzuki Institute for two summers. I met some awesome people and got to perform in a big recital hall playing for the first time a duet with guitar. I also got to experience what it was like to have roommates, which was fun. Last summer I was fortunate enough to travel with the Suzuki tour group to Germany where I made lifelong friends, saw amazing history, and took a masterclass with professional orchestra musicians. But I think my favorite part of the Germany trip was being on the bus with everyone.

Vivace Violins and chamber orchestra have given me additional performance opportunities. I have learned a great deal being a part of these ensembles. My future plans for the violin are to play for enjoyment and perhaps gig locally. I am joining the air force after college, and I think learning the violin will give me many skills that I will be able to apply to anything I chose to pursue in my life.

Firstly, I would like to thank my Aunt Ellen for being my teacher since I was 4 years old. She has my utmost respect and love. When I find it hard to practice and it shows in my lesson, she has always been forgiving and is always trying to find ways to help me understand and play better. I would also like to thank my mom (of course!) for being my Suzuki parent and a Suzuki teacher. She has seen the highs and lows of my violin accomplishments and she’s stuck with me the whole time. Finally, I would like to thank the MacPhail Suzuki teachers that have watched me grow up. I would especially like to thank Kamini LaRusso for giving me the opportunity to join Vivace Violins. I have made so many great friends and have really enjoyed it. I can’t express how grateful I am to be a part of this wonderful community and how much it has shaped my life.

Allison F.

Ever since I was 3 years old, when apparently all I could ever say during group class was “baby,” I would always walk into piano lessons knowing that there were always two pianos, one for me and one for my teacher, Mrs. Greer. Back then, I was too young to understand what passion or love was, so I can’t really say that I had a passion or love for piano. But one thing’s for sure, whenever I listened to my piano teacher playing the same phrase as I did seconds ago, I loved the dynamics, the tone, and the melody she conveyed, much more than the bland sounds I made. I could simply hear how her piano was always full of elegance, articulation, musicality, and deep care for the instrument. Little did I know that I would one day embrace piano in the same way that my piano teacher did.

I still remember the good old days when all I had to do was set a timer for 15 minutes to practice piano every day. Over the years, the time began to increase from 15 to 30 to 45 to 60 to 75 minutes and beyond. Just like how this timer grew, so did my schedule. My daily life became much busier and more hectic. As a former competitive rhythmic gymnast, I had 4 hours of practice every day after school, leaving me with no time for piano. However, I still wanted to play piano, so I forced myself to wake up early in the morning to practice before boarding the bus. Thanks to piano, I’ve developed great discipline and time management.

When high school hit, juggling with schoolwork, rhythmic, and piano was a very difficult challenge. I was at my worst point where I was exhausted both physically and mentally. I was unable to keep up with consistent piano practice and ended up cutting down on the piano competitions I used to participate in. Eventually, my passion, which was a result of the various competitions from rhythmic and piano that only cared about being perfect, no longer existed. Despite this, I kept going. I had made a commitment to piano (so glad I did!). Thankfully, piano lessons were always a safe place for me. I’m the luckiest for having the most patient, understanding, and flexible piano teacher. She’s the one adult outside of my family who has watched me grow into an adult. I’m eternally grateful for her constant encouragement and guidance, pushing me to be the best I can be. Through this perseverance, I realized that competitions do not matter; performances do not matter; what matters is if you are enjoying what you’re doing. That so-called passion turned into what I call, my love for music—my love for piano.

Today, I have only pure joy and appreciation for how beautiful the piano can sound in all its special ways. I truly love infusing my own musicality when playing the piano. I share a deep care for the piano, just as Mrs. Greer does. I no longer see performances as an intimidation to be perfect, but as an opportunity to bring joy to others, and most of all, myself.

Before I end this piano journey, I thank Mrs. Greer for wholeheartedly supporting me along the way. I especially thank my mom and dad for their commitment, bringing me to and from piano lessons, concerts, competitions, etc. My piano journey would not be so enriched if not for you guys.

As my favorite teacher in the whole wide world always says, “The greatest thing about piano is that you can always come back to it at any time.” The real question is: Will you see me playing the piano when I’m ninety-nine years old?

Yes, you will.

Evan H.

When I was five, my parents took me to a magic show. Technically, it was a Minnesota Orchestra concert, but I was just as in awe of the displays I saw as I would have been if I was watching a person get sawed in half. The bows seemingly jumped from end to end, the instruments inexplicably made the music as enchanting as a siren’s song, and I had made up my mind. I was going to learn the violin, and I was going to learn how to make the magic myself.

However, reality struck very early on. The magical instrument I saw wielded by talented musicians felt foreign in my hand, and I was not prepared for the meticulous, time-consuming process of learning proper technique. The first year or two of my violin journey saw many fits of rage and tears, arguments with my mom over how much longer I had to practice, and slow progress through the first few Suzuki books. Thanks to some hard work, long hours, and most of all, repetitive nagging and oversight from my mom, I started to see day by day that I was improving at a steady pace. Like my skill, my self-confidence grew as I had now discovered that I was becoming pretty good at something for the first time. Each time I left a Suzuki Friday night recital, I felt proud of the work I had put into the piece I performed, and I loved the Suzuki book system because I could see my efforts translate into progression through the books.

When I look back at my violin journey, I’m reminded of a couple of low points, like the Friday nights when I was dragged away from my video games to practice and forgetting the Veracini Gigue halfway through a performance. However, many more positive memories flood my brain, like play in Saturday group out-and-abouts, performing as a soloist in the 2022 SAM graduations, participating in the Sartory Strings and Stanford Suzuki music camps, and performing for the MacPhail Music Matters Luncheon. Throughout my whole experience with the violin, the times I grew the most were when I picked myself up after the lows, regrouped, and climbed my way back to the highs.

I want to give a huge thanks to Alison Fahy, my first teacher who trained me in the fundamentals of the violin and displayed patience when I used class time to blurt out all of the stories I had to tell her from my past week. Thanks as well to Mr. Mark Bjork, who has taught me all the advanced intricacies the violin can achieve and has persuaded me not only to play the correct notes within the right metronomic pulse but to challenge myself to mix the composer’s stylistic intentions of the piece with my own. I also want to thank him for motivating me to pursue new challenges and participating in competitions. Lastly, thanks to my at-home teacher, my mom, who always sets goals for me whenever I get complacent and has always pushed me to achieve a higher standard from the very start.

Through all the different phases and interests I’ve had in my life, the MacPhail Suzuki program has been a constant in my life, and learning the violin has taught me lessons about time management, perseverance, and discipline. Although the violin is not the college or career path I am pursuing, I know I’ll carry all the lessons I’ve learned with me everywhere I go, and for that, I have the MacPhail Suzuki Program to thank.

Yunny H.

It’s cheesy to say that I don’t remember a time when music was not part of my life. But, quite frankly, I have a really bad memory and I’m not trying to be poetic when I say I genuinely do not remember my life before the start of my long-lived Suzuki career.

The violin was my first instrument, dating back to my kindergarten years. I was a slow learner as per my mother, and it took me a little while to get up on my feet. But through it all, I have to thank the one and only Heather VanderLey, my violin teacher, who has taught me all that I know on the strings of my violin. Through my bouts of impatience and frustration, Heather has been there to shape me as the violinist I am today. Really, I would’ve never imagined I’d go to camp to do intense, hours-long training as a violinist in an all-state orchestra if you’d asked me four years ago. But I did, and I challenged myself to be better and better, Heather accompanying my every step. And not to mention my lifelong friends, dispersed all across the borders of Minnesota, interconnected through a single instrument. I would’ve never met them if I hadn’t gotten so far. Being a violinist has taught me not only how to hold my bow correctly, but all the minuscule yet profound experiences that come with it.

A year after I started violin, I began piano. The piano was a little bit different from the violin. I had to keep my eyes on both my hands now, and again, as per my mother, I began slowly. This progress continued, until COVID. And strikingly, lockdown became my piano career’s most productive period. I remember pulling out my iPad, opening Musescore or another sheet music application, picking out a piece to sight read from TV shows, or movies, or video games – I became proficient at piano through my love for sight reading. But that wouldn’t be possible if not for the one who pushes my potential: Susan Sophocleus. Susan is the greatest piano player, and a greater teacher. She taught me to master the keys of the piano despite my smallish hands and introduced my love for Chopin’s repertoire. I’ve gotten to participate in so many special events including the first ever Piano Ensemble, and hopefully as I write this, my last one too.

And my parents. Where to start? If not for their constant support and showing up to lessons or recitals, who knows what kind of musician I could’ve turned out to be. But the fact of the matter is, they’ve stuck with me all this way, through every note on my sheet music wall (yes, I tape my completed sheet music up on my wall!). They dragged me through my own mud to get up and continue, and I’m so grateful to have so much support backed up behind me.

Needless to say, music has been such an integral part of my core. The little girl inside my heart beats for the passion and love I hold for music to this day, carrying my Suzuki knowledge within me forever, no matter what paths cross me. And what a journey it has been.

Suhani J.

Music took a major part of my life very early. From the day I came home from the hospital, I would hear my older brother practice every day. I was obsessed with the piano and the sounds it could make, even when I had no idea what it was. My parents put me into lessons when I was around three and a half years old, after relentless begging and jealousy towards my brother.

I had already been tagging along with him, but finally was given the chance to have my own lesson. I was already familiar with Nancy Daley because of this, but her impact became all the much greater once I joined lessons. I still remember that little stuffed unicorn that she would balance on my wrist every week, to teach me not to let my wrist fall and knock the unicorn down while playing. Nancy always knew how to make my lessons fun and interactive, especially for a little girl with a very short attention span. As I got older, she introduced me to the importance of listening. I would listen to my Suzuki CD’s on repeat every night at bedtime, always falling asleep to the sound of music. I’ve carried this habit with me throughout the rest of my piano journey.

When I learned pieces from the Suzuki repertoire, I started group class. One of my best friends, Shalini, was often in the same classes as I was, which made me SO excited to go. At first, I was more drawn by the treats our teachers would bring us as prizes, rather than playing for the class, but eventually I learned to love and understand the importance of taking those performances seriously. I’ve dealt with anxiety a lot when performing in front of a group, and group class has had a profound impact on helping me manage that anxiety during recitals in Antonello Hall. While the feelings haven’t gone away completely, anxiety has a much smaller effect on my playing now than it did a few years ago.

Around a year or two ago, Nancy retired from teaching to focus on her own passions and to also become a music student again. I switched teachers for the very first time in all of my piano life, but Nancy could not have picked a better teacher for me to switch to. Susan Sophocleus was understanding and willing to work with me from the first moment I met her, which I am forever grateful for. This could have been a miserable, difficult change but because of Susan’s efforts and our growth with each other’s styles of learning/teaching, it has worked out wonderfully. Both of my teachers have had such impacts on my learning and my playing style, I wouldn’t be nearly the musician I am today if I hadn’t had the privilege of learning under both of them throughout my time at MacPhail.

While I don’t plan on pursuing music professionally, I really hope to keep piano in my life as I navigate the journey of the next chapter of my life. Piano has had such an impact on the way I think and problem solve, and it has always been an incredible escape for me. My time at MacPhail is sadly coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean my time with piano has to! Someday in the future, I hope I have the opportunity to send my own kids to MacPhail to discover a love of music in the same way I have.

Wyatt K.

Playing piano has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’m told I started receiving piano lessons when I was three. I started at MacPhail under Diana Woit at age four. It’s amazing how patient, kind, and approachable Miss Diana was with me. This meant I knew she actually cared about me improving and we always celebrated what I had done well. She and my Mom kept me working on piano until I was eleven. Unfortunately, then I got sick and was unable to play for several months. During this time, families we knew in the studio and MacPhail staff were very supportive. After I got better, Miss Diana helped me restart practicing. She kept me from getting frustrated at the lost ability.

After that was when my passion for music truly started. Miss Diana encouraged me to expand my music experience. When I was twelve, I started playing trombone in a school band and I began lessons with Karl Wiederwohl at MacPhail. Over the years, I have participated in brass camps and ensembles with him. His enthusiasm and technical skill make working with him rewarding. At fifteen, I also started singing in choir. When Miss Diana retired at the start of my junior year, I started taking lessons from Richard Tostenson. He has helped me develop my musical skills to where they are today. In particular, he’s given me a much greater understanding of phrases and dynamics. Along the way, I’ve played in the pit of a musical, completed an AP Music Theory class, performed the bride’s march for a friend’s wedding, and I’ve started to compose music in the last year with lessons from Dr. Sarah Miller. It has been a privilege to play the Mendelssohn Concerto with Annette Lee and the Faculty Orchestra.

Music is the largest, most important endeavor I’ve pursued in my life. It’s been a goal I have worked towards, a comfort on the worst of days, a challenge to overcome, and a source of great happiness. I play piano and trombone. I sing and also compose music.

Janine L.

Lukas M.

I’ve been playing the guitar for 14 years of my life, and I’ve had the privilege of interacting with it in many distinctly different capacities. Under my first teacher, Brent Weaver, I was able to finish Suzuki while simultaneously learning about the Spanish heritage of my instrument. Several years later I joined a quartet under the instruction of Jean Bridge, where I learned to appreciate ensemble. Both teachers retired several years ago, and I’ve been studying with Alan Johnston ever since. Under Alan I’ve performed in competitions and been a member of the MacPhail guitar quartet.

In recent years, I’ve found that my true passion for music is in an ensemble. I’m a flautist in a symphonic winds group, an electric guitarist in a jazz ensemble, and a classical guitarist in duets with my brother. I plan to continue these avenues of music as I move through a biology major at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities next year.

Music has taught me a lot about myself. While competing, I learned that I couldn’t just play music for the money. I’ve learned that the biggest joy in music is the beauty of collective creation and the ability to work with others, and it’s a joy I hope to share for the rest of my life.

Jaedyn Q.

A “sniff and a lift” will soon cue the song that represents my accomplishment of 13 years. My love for music began with my grandmother Ida Steven, whom I dedicate my violin journey to. My grandmother introduced me to the violin through a sampler class when I was four. Here, I quickly realized the violin was the instrument for me.

I then went on to meet my wonderful teacher, Heather Vanderley. She has taught me every skill and technique I know. Her patience and encouragement are things that have really stuck with me through the years. I am not the quickest with learning new songs or techniques, and am often too hard on myself, but Heather continued to push me to be better. Like most Suzuki violin students, I began with the usual cardboard violin, and foot position circle, which made me even more eager to play the real instrument. After a few months, my grandmother gifted me my first violin. When she removed it from its case, I quickly grabbed it from her hands. Excited to play my first “real” note, I proudly scratched the bow across the strings, conducting my own melodies, not knowing what my future held.

In the years following, I experienced studio recitals, honor recitals, group and orchestra concerts, and even being a violin buddy. Learning and growing in the MacPhail Suzuki program has provided me with so many opportunities, and best of all, has given me a skill to share with others. In 7th grade, I accompanied the school choir. This was probably my biggest audience – I remember the knots in my stomach, but feeling accomplished afterwards. Early on in my violin journey, I was able to play at my father and step-mother’s wedding while she walked down the aisle. Even though I was young, I felt the importance of what I was doing. I remember feeling emotional that I was able to experience such a thing at seven years old. I’ve also gotten to play at my grandparents’ nursing homes, and it was always fun to put smiles on their faces.

Apart from the many happy times, I’ve also used my music to mourn and experience sad emotions. I’ve played at many funerals. Each time it was hard, but being able to play an emotional piece for someone you love, for me was like a “last goodbye”. I love deep, and legato songs, with dramatic bows and dynamics because it creates an environment different from other classical pieces. It allows the listener to really feel each note, with whatever internal emotion they may be feeling. I may just think like this because the violin has been my safe place and has definitely created a therapeutic hobby for me to rely on when I’m feeling overwhelmed with life.

Through these past 13 years, I can say that I’ve learned a lot. Not only about the violin, but about myself and the world around me. The skill of violin has trained me to persevere, work hard, and appreciate the little accomplishments in life. To me, the violin is a very complex instrument, and even after 13 years of studying it and performing, I still have no clue of its capabilities in my hands.

Ila R.

Franklin S.

My Suzuki journey started with taking lessons with Nancy Daley for about 10 years and after she retired, I became a student of Richard Tostenson. When I was little, I always thought of the graduating seniors as so amazingly talented and old. It is crazy that this day has finally come and now I am at the end of my Suzuki journey. It feels like just a couple years ago that I started lessons and now I will be off to college in the Fall.

My first piano memories are going to my older sister’s lessons and playing with the toys and games under the piano while listening to her lesson. By the time I was old enough to start lessons with Mrs. Daley, I was so excited that I finally got to do both: play with the toys during my sister’s lesson and play the piano! Another early memory captured in a photo is practicing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star at home with my bike helmet on. Safety first, I guess!

I am thankful that I stuck with piano. When other activities started to take up a lot of my time, online pandemic lessons, and finally throughout my busy high school years, I always stayed committed and didn’t quit. I definitely credit my parents and their much-needed encouragement. Especially on the days when I didn’t want to practice or I tried to get out of going to lessons, they made sure that I stayed committed and I didn’t give up. I persevered through it all, and I am so happy that I did as this feels like the summit of my piano journey.

I really appreciate my ability to play the piano as it allows me to explore my interests in music even more. It has given me the ability to hear any given song that I like and then learn how to play it in such little time. Another thing I am grateful for is that no matter how busy each week was, my piano lesson was always a time of quiet and focus where there were no distractions.

Mrs. Daley has been such a good instructor, and I am incredibly thankful for her. I never would have expected a piano teacher to become such a great family friend. What other teacher cheers you on at your baseball games! I also appreciate getting to know Mr. Tostenson and everything he has taught me in the short two years I have been a student of his. It has been fun to experience having two different teachers in my Suzuki career and learn different things from each of them.

I want to thank both of them for the combined years of dedication and education from when I was a little sibling of a pianist to now preparing for this senior recital. Finally, a big thank you to my parents for making sure I practiced every day along with their huge commitment to taking me to all of my lessons and recitals, and everything else as well.

Miriam V.

My experience with learning the piano has not been unique. Every child learning an instrument knows the struggle of staying still during lessons and practice, the trembling hands before performances, and the disappointed head shakes from teachers and parents. Even after 6 or 7 years of playing, my mother’s daily reminders: “Miriam! ¡A practicar piano!” (Miriam, practice piano) and “Todavía no te he escuchado tocar el piano hoy” (I haven’t heard you play the piano yet today) never failed to put me in a bad mood.

For a while, the only redeeming part of playing piano was the praise. Whenever my parents had guests, they would always make me perform the piece I was working on. I would begrudgingly agree, and receive a consistent stream of tepid compliments. I had always loved music, but playing the piano felt like a flat, repetitive chore. It wasn’t until 5th grade that I discovered Chopin in book 5, and learned that piano music didn’t have to be emotionless. The first piece of his I learned was Waltz in A minor. This piece sparked the realization that I much prefer romantic music to classical and baroque because of how expressive I found myself playing. After 8 years and many pieces by romantic composers learned, Chopin remains my favorite composer. Despite discovering my love for romantic music, the stress and pressure that made me hate playing piano continued and even worsened in high school. Beginning in 10th grade, I took on more responsibilities than I could manage: extracurriculars, AP classes, a job, and volunteering – and playing piano became less of a priority. It was around then that I began to learn Fantaisie Impromptu by Chopin, and the love that I had for expressive romantic pieces in 5th grade returned. Granted, it did take me about 9 months to finish the piece, but it was worth it.

Last spring, my piano teacher, Susan Sophocleus, informed me that I would be playing with an orchestra for my senior piece. Despite it being the longest and most difficult option, I chose Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor simply because it is a beautiful piece. A couple of months later, my parents and I visited one of my mother’s friends, Elia, while in Mexico City. As usual, my mother made me play the Grieg concerto for her. About halfway through, I looked over my shoulder to see a reaction that I had never experienced; Elia had tears coming from her eyes. I wouldn’t say this reaction caused an epiphany, but it did cause me to reflect on how my commitment to piano had gradually changed from loathing and duty, to love for musicality and expression.

I won’t say that discovering my love for piano has been an easy journey – my parents can attest to that. I can say, however, that piano has had one of the most profound impacts on my development socially and academically, and in building my character. Although I won’t study piano in college, I will carry the love I have for music with me for the rest of my life.

I’d like to thank my sister for playing the piece in Amelie while I danced around our living room at age 3, my mother for not letting me quit despite my incessant pleading, and Chopin for composing all of my favorite pieces. Most importantly, I’d like to thank Susan for pushing me, and for encouraging my emotional expression through piano for the past 12 years.

Frances V.

When I was little, I watched my siblings take lessons at Beth Turco’s house as I sat on the floor and played with Beanie Babies. When I turned five, I begged my parents to let me start. I wanted to be just like my older siblings.

I quickly regretted this decision. The 30 minutes of practice each day seemed to drag on and I just wanted to go play with my friends. The struggle to get me to practice continued through middle school. There was a lot of screaming and tears, long past the age where that was socially acceptable. I explained all the ways that quitting piano would be beneficial, to no avail. They said that I had to play piano until I graduated from Suzuki book 7 or turned 18.

I struggled to find the passion that my siblings had. I felt like I was just practicing to satisfy an expectation. That is, until I was given a choice. Halfway through my junior year, my parents told me that I could quit piano if I wanted. They said that it wasn’t worth the fight anymore. The choice was mine and I chose to stay. And as I kept playing, I started to love it because I was doing it for myself. I felt free of the expectations. By experiencing the exhilaration of making music, I am able to spread the joy of song.

I started being able to pick which songs to play, and fell in love with the emotion that I could convey through music that I struggle to communicate with words. The story of joy and sorrow, tension and relief that is shown through changing dynamics and tempo. Through music, I found peace. I found something that I truly love and feel passionate about.

Jonah W.

After an episode of sepsis in infancy that threatened to destroy my hearing, my early affinity for anything of the musical variety came as a surprise to my parents. As the story goes, Mozart was the only salve to soothe my colicky crying episodes. I started humming along to the radio in near-perfect pitch from my rear-facing car seat. I later transformed my bedroom into a full orchestra of Lego-built pianos, guitars, trumpets, and drums.

The Legos soon gave way to my first Suzuki violin lesson at age four. My very first teacher, a stern silver-haired woman, taught me to calm my wiggly energy by holding a cereal box firmly under my chin. “Still as a soldier.” Weeks turned into months of holding the box with perfect posture, gripping a wooden dowel bow and singing “Up Like a Rocket,” when I finally earned my very first instrument, a tiny, red-tinged violin.

Unlike many others, I wasn’t initially enamored by its sweet, ringing sound or its captivating design. In fact, in the early years, practicing violin often seemed more of a mandatory chore to check off before returning to the world of imaginative play I so enjoyed. Despite my periodic apathy toward the instrument, the pattern of daily practice became habitual, constant, and familiar. I was somehow hooked.

Throughout the years, I watched various hobbies come and go: baseball, soccer, chess, and choir. Violin always remained, non-negotiable. When my family moved from southern Minnesota to the Twin Cities in 2015, finding a new violin teacher became a top priority. The search led us to MacPhail, the place that would become my second home, and to Tamara Gonzalez, the teacher who would, week-by-week, come to shape me as a musician.

Early high school proved to be one of the most challenging periods of my life. From switching schools, COVID isolation, losing community, and weathering the mounting insecurities of adolescence, giving up on music altogether could have been a logical sequela. Instead, I found my attitude towards the violin shifting in the opposite direction. With the external world seemingly unreachable, I leaned on music as a portal to connections beyond the confines of my home. I soaked in music like a sponge and wrung it out through my newly voracious appetite for playing the violin. Upon returning to in-person orchestra and lessons, I quickly found myself becoming more independent, more interested, and more engaged. One particularly successful recital was the moment in which I finally realized my potential and how much I truly enjoyed performing.

In these experiences, my love for classical music and the violin started to blossom. I began to develop my musical taste and delve into the works of my favorite composers–from Dvorák to Debussy–learning to appreciate the intricacies of each of their compositions. I came to love concertos, quartet pieces, orchestral compositions, and even pieces that didn’t center around the violin. My practice became increasingly frequent and enjoyable. I found new friends, colleagues, and community in my orchestra-mates, bonding over our shared art. Music became and continues to be my inspiration and my anchor.

Reflecting upon my years as a Suzuki student, I now see both the most conspicuous and the more subtle benefits provided by this method. Studying music in this way has enhanced my problem-solving skills, sharpened my memory, and developed my patience, perseverance, and sensitivity. It has given me a worthwhile outlet for my time and energy along with the satisfaction and pleasure of realizing the results of hard work. It has afforded me the opportunity to meet and learn from a diverse group of wonderful instructors, conductors, chamber coaches, masterclass teachers, and accompanists. I have collected a lifetime of memories and unforgettable experiences, and truly, this is only the beginning. As I transition to college, I am certain of the plentiful opportunities and continued growth that will be available to me, with my violin in hand.

Lastly, I would be remiss not to offer gratitude toward the most notable people in my musical journey thus far. First, I would like to thank my parents, who introduced me to the violin, guided me through years of early practice, spent thousands of hours driving and attending my lessons and musical events, and ultimately gifted me the musical opportunities that have transformed my life. Your support and encouragement have always carried me. Secondly, I would like to thank my teacher, Tamara Gonzalez. Your delicate balance of kindness and patience, paired with your ability to push me toward excellence is the key that has unlocked my potential. Your expert instruction and your willingness to know me well have been essential in my growth as a musician and as a human. Your lessons transcend the violin, and I am forever grateful for the nine years we spent together. Thank you seems hardly enough.

Lilia Y.

I sometimes wonder what my younger self would say if she was asked the question “why do you play the cello?” Would she think of the daily reminders to practice for an adequate amount of time, and say “Because my parents make me?” Or would she remember the Orange Mighty Trio she saw when she was four and decided she wanted to be like that cellist? Or a simple “I like playing?”

Perhaps I never even considered why. Why I sat down nearly every day and moved my bow and fingers in time to a drilling metronome and tedious technique practices. Why I practiced and polished my repertoire again and again, just so I could nervously sit and play in front of a recital crowd of families. Why I woke up early to be at Saturday morning group rehearsal each week at 9 am.

When I was younger, my least favorite part of cello was taking the instrument out of the case. While this task took a maximum of 30 seconds to complete, the thought of actually doing it was somehow daunting, and I dreaded it. Especially on days when I spent hours sitting with my homework – my antsy, stagnant energy repelled me from unzipping my soft case, or later unbuckling the clasps on my shiny blue one, instead of drawing me to the very thing that would’ve likely dissolved my angst.

Here is where my parents come in. Besides all the hours spent driving and the money poured into lessons and instruments, being a constant voice of discipline and practicing accountability was a key part of my mom and dad’s role as Suzuki parents. If nothing else, their voices moved me to open that case even when I most didn’t want to.
Usually what would happen next was I would go through my practice routine: review, ensemble pieces, repertoire, etc. No matter how hard the material was that I had worked on, by the end of my lesson I felt a little more clear-headed and energetic, like I had, if even just for a bit, an internal reset.

I believe in the power that music has to help us heal, experience emotion, and express ourselves. The cello fulfills this for me in a special way; I am the one creating the sound through my cello, so the music carries what I put into it. I have sometimes thought of my cello as a kind of emotions-processor. The sound vibrations released from rich wood and swooping f-holes move the tension in my body and release it through song. I no longer need my parents’ voices to motivate me to open my case and tighten my bow. I know how the movement and sound will be soothing and rejuvenating for me. If I ever get the feeling that I would rather be a couch potato than do my repetition practices in a difficult spot, the consistent experience from years of feeling better after playing my cello is now what gives me the final push to just do it.

Whether I realized it at the time or not, looking back I think that it was a phenomenon that must have always drawn me back to my cello, day after day, year after year. Even if my notes were squeaky or my fingers missed the guiding position tapes, when my bow stroked the string, a part of myself was expressed through the music, and that was freeing. The metronome beats, early alarm clocks, the etudes and exercises my teachers gave me, and the firm practice expectations from my parents are what allowed me to experience the gift and beauty of being proficient in an instrument. I am so grateful to my mom and dad for giving me this gift, and to Ms. Andrea for lesson chats, for Cello Rock, for challenging me, and for believing in me.

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