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Suzuki School of Newton works to continue classes during COVID-19 pandemic

Jason Chen, an 11-year-old piano student, performs his Piano Book 3 graduation recital on the porch for friends and neighbors.
Jason Chen, an 11-year-old piano student, performs his Piano Book 3 graduation recital on the porch for friends and neighbors.Photo by Hannah Vu

The Suzuki School of Newton is joining similar music programs across the country to ensure its community has access to classes during the pandemic. Switching to online instruction was essential, school officials said, in order to continue building the relationships among students and teachers.

“I think our families really appreciate the continued connection to the school, said Amanda Cook, the registrar and marketing manager of the Suzuki School. “Students form a really special bond with their music teachers.”

Cook said the school was able to “seamlessly move” classes online with few technological glitches, though some of their programs don’t lend themselves to a remote format. She said she was surprised by how well students adapted to remote learning, attributing some of it to the connection they share with their teachers.

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“We have found that our students have been so flexible and so adaptable during this time, they've really embraced the technology,” Cook said.

The Suzuki School of Newton, which offers a wide range of programs from individual and group lessons to a preschool, is part of the larger contingent of Suzuki Schools around the country modeled after the teachings of Shinichi Suzuki.

Cook said the mission of the Suzuki school ultimately is to “instill a lifelong love of music and learning” in their students.

“We do this through the pedagogical system of Dr. Shinichi Suzuki — he was a 20th-century Japanese pedagogue who believed that every child is capable of learning just at their own pace — but as long as you provide children with a nurturing and loving environment, and skilled educators, then every child can learn to play a musical instrument, just like they would learn their native language.”

David and Allison Penn have had two children enrolled in the Suzuki School since they moved to Boston in 2013. David Penn said the transition to online learning was “more seamless than you would expect.”

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“The Suzuki school basically rolled out online teaching within a week of everything being shut down,” David Penn said.

“They jumped right in, and everybody had their normal classes, their normal lessons, all at the same times, all with the same teachers,” Allison Penn said. “That very first week, they jumped in and were doing everything and doing the regular schedule that the kids were used to.”

Sachiko Isihara, executive director and a piano teacher at the Suzuki School of Newton, said she expected much more conflict moving everything online, but she continues to teach almost all of her classes with few flaws.

“Originally, because Suzuki is all about music, and my teachers are mostly graduate degreed, performance majors, they were very reluctant to move to virtual learning,” Isihara said. “We basically did that transition in the space of three days, and it has been remarkably smooth for us.”

Isihara said aside from family members, music teachers often have some of the strongest bonds between a student and learning.

“Even though we sometimes only see them once or twice a week, the issue is that we actually stick with our students, and our students stick with us through many years of music lessons,” she said. “So for us, we have a very personal relationship with that student.”

David Penn highlighted the relationship his daughter has with her Suzuki teacher, whom she has had since the third grade.

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“She has this very good relationship with another adult,” David Penn said. “That in itself is really valuable and something that this Suzuki school I think is pretty good at fostering.”

Cook said their community around music is beneficial beyond learning notes and scales and “isn't necessarily to produce the next virtuoso musician.”

“The Suzuki philosophy is about cultivating the whole person,” Cook said. “It's about teaching things like self-respect and self-discipline, it's about teaching young children to have a capacity to learn complex skills in a step-by-step manner, it's about so much more than just music lessons.”

Cook said the biggest hurdle facing the Suzuki School right now is the struggle to bring in revenue, especially with the preschool closure.

“We've also had fundraiser performances canceled, so our scholarship fund, in particular, is really in jeopardy right now,” she said. Cook said she and the rest of the faculty have begun searching for other solutions.

“We're looking into everything from applying for additional grants and seeking additional foundation support to hosting GoFundMe fundraisers for specific causes,” Cook said. “Some of our preschool families have very graciously donated their April tuition to help sustain the preschool teacher salaries.”

There’s currently no timetable for when the Suzuki School plans on resuming in-person learning.