Oberlin Blogs

A month of one's own

January 20, 2010

Megan Emberton ’12

Winter Term, o Winter Term. How many times have I had to explain you to the inquisitive hordes who wonder why I am still hanging around at home in my small home town, Michigan? ... A lot of times. Yes, I am still at home! No, I don't need to get a job. I have a lot of work to do already. Actually, I am not just taking an extended vacation. And yes, it's true! I'm not going back to school until FEBRUARY.

Last year I spent my Winter Term in Oberlin baking an obscene number of cookies and playing in an orchestra, but mostly taking an intensive introductory German course in preparation for Deutsch 102. It was fun (the cookies), but totally frazzling (the German). I knew that this year I wanted something a little more low-key. Something that didn't involve twenty hours of class a week plus hours more of manic studying and verb-swallowing.

Oberlin's Winter Term is a fantastic idea. You have a month to yourself. A WHOLE MONTH. To do whatever you want. That is pretty neat-o, guys. When I was looking at schools, this was one of the things that drew me to Oberlin. As someone who doesn't totally enjoy being cooped up in class and told what to do, Winter Term seemed like a Great Escape, a time to delve into things that I find I don't have the time for during school. (Yes, Winter Term German did have me sitting at a desk and carrying around a textbook all January, but I also couldn't see ever fitting the enormous five-credit 101 class into my regular semester schedule at any point). And no, I'm not currently doing any of the one hundred exciting things I long ago dreamt that I might accomplish during the month of January, either. Traveling - nope. Internship - nope. Reading a book a day? Nope. Learning accordion? Not this time. Making a lot of soup - alas, no. Building a bamboo bike - I can't even put my chain back on its sprocket, so no. Figuring out FOR REAL how to get photos in my blog entries anymore - no. Aries showed me, but I fear that during finals week, my capacity for retaining any more knowledge was at an all-time low.

Instead, I find myself continuing to do the previously UNTHINKABLE... I am spending my January following further in the footsteps of my mother, who is a cellist and Suzuki cello teacher. First, I somehow find myself going to music school (believe me, that never even remotely struck me as being in the cards for most of my time in high school), and now? Now I have eleven piano students in and around Oberlin, and have decided to spend my Winter Term beginning my Suzuki teacher training. I am living at home and driving to Ann Arbor a few times a week to work with my old piano teacher and new teacher trainer, taking and observing lessons. It's not exotic or particularly exciting to anyone besides me, and people didn't go OH WOW when I told them my Winter Term plans, but I am really happy that I am doing it. I enjoy teaching and think that music education is pretty important stuff. I'm glad to have the opportunity to take the time to focus on this and work one-on-one with someone without having to think about homework or any of that.

I feel like explaining what the Suzuki method is would require an entirely new entry, but let me try to sum it up here. It is a way to teach music to young children which emphasizes starting early, lots of parental involvement, lots of listening and learning by ear, and lots of repetition. Shinichi Suzuki developed his "mother-tongue" method, realizing that if all "Japanese children speak Japanese!" there must be a way to apply those principles of language acquisition to learning music. Above all, the Suzuki method, or Talent Education, is really more of a philosophy, applicable to more than just music. All children can learn. Talent is created, nurtured, and developed. It is not intrinsic or inherited.

By the way, interesting fact: Talent Education actually came from Japan to the United States via Oberlin. In 1963, Professor of Music Education Clifford Cook began North America's first Suzuki program in Oberlin after viewing a film about Suzuki's work at the OSTA (Ohio String Teachers' Association) conference. Strangely, this doesn't seem to be a fact that anyone at Oberlin really plays up or mentions; I discovered it through Suzuki resources.

When I have brought it up or mentioned my Winter Term project, a lot more than one person has expressed their reservations about and disdain toward the Suzuki method. Unfortunately, a few of them seem to be judging based on stereotypes of the typical Suzuki student - I guess seen as some sort of technically proficient child who can't read music and has rhythm problems. The only way I can think of to respond to this sort of thing is to try to explain the basic Suzuki approach in a straightforward manner. I can casually mention that I was a Suzuki student and I'm pretty sure I turned out okay. I also want people to understand that there should be flexibility within the Suzuki method (or any method), there should be no dogmatic or general, blanket approach to learning, and that having a good, well-trained teacher is PARAMOUNT in anyone's musical life, no matter what approach you're using.

Someone pointed out to me today that I seem to get really worked up about this.


But I think that might be a good sign. Winter Term is for getting worked up about things - anything! There might not be as many flashcards as last January, but there is still plenty of thinking, watching, listening, playing, reading, and yes, a lot of baking. Always.

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