PCM’s music programs have been online for six months now. Finding new ways to motivate and inspire students in a personalized way, while fostering a shared musical experience, has been one of our greatest challenges. One of the programs that has demonstrated a nimble and multi-faceted approach is PCM’s Suzuki violin and viola program.
At PCM, Suzuki students register for individual instruction, as well as weekly Suzuki group classes. These classes provide an early understanding of key musical elements through listening, repetition, learning with other children, and strong parental support (or, as Ms. Megan likes to say, “home teachers”). The community building that is inherent in the Suzuki Method remains evident among our Suzuki families and faculty, despite great odds presented by our current environment.
Megan Shung leads PCM’s Suzuki violin and viola program and says that, “The violin is an instrument for a brave child and an even braver family.” She also shares how success varies from student to student – it’s not one-size-fits-all. “When it comes to learning a musical instrument, are the results binary? How can one conclusively say you are or aren’t thriving? We must acknowledge the fact that establishing a parameter to celebrate a spectrum of success is positive and promotes musical and personal growth in young children.”
A highlight of the summer was a challenge that Ms. Megan created for her students. “The intention was to create an achievable yet challenging goal for each student and to teach them how to develop a plan to achieve that goal in an uncertain 3 months. The challenges were tailored and different for each child. For some it was to pass a new piece of repertoire each month. For others it was to play one arpeggio every day or to be punctual and prepared for every lesson. The most important aspect of the challenge wasn’t the challenge itself, but how we tweaked, adjusted, and experimented with different ways to help accomplish the goal.”
After persevering through a difficult summer, 12-year-old Jeremy (who studies viola with Ms. Megan) shared that, “Yes, we are in a pandemic but it feels good that I still accomplished something.”
To celebrate each student’s personal success in the summer challenge, Ms. Megan (now also known as “Summer Santa”), delivered prizes to each student, from Arcadia to Temple City to Pasadena to Highland Park to La Canada to Burbank. “I got to play music with many of them, jam and improvise with their family, and chat and catch up.”
Ms. Megan’s studio also presented a recital online on August 23. Students submitted performance videos, which Ms. Megan compiled into a single program, complete with applause. Then, students and their family and friends from all over the world (Israel, England, Costa Rica!) logged into Zoom and streamed the recital together. During the recital, Ms. Megan encouraged her students to think critically while also supporting other students, asking them to provide positive feedback (“great tone!” or “nice straight bow!”) in the chat.
Even though the concert experience is dramatically different from what we are used to, there are some silver linings. For one, students can now bring popcorn to recitals (something not allowed in Barrett Hall)! Another is that family members, no matter where they live, can now experience their loved one’s performance in real time. It was incredibly heartwarming to see the grandfather in Israel wave to his granddaughter and proudly applaud her performance.
As the shutdown continues and the fall quarter begins, Ms. Megan poses the question, “We hear the phrase ‘we are in this together,’ but do children really feel the same way as adults when they are isolated from their peers?” She has always approached her lessons thoughtfully and with great empathy, but now more than ever, Ms. Megan views herself as not only a teacher, but a lifelong mentor, helping her students navigate a confusing and unsettling time in their lives.